Ron and Clint Howard Remember Dad Rance’s ‘Enthusiasm, Dignity and Fearlessness’ (Guest Column)

“Having Opie sass back to Andy might get a few laughs, but it’s like every other sitcom and it hurts the father/son relationship.”

Aaron Ruben, Sheldon Leonard, and Andy Griffith were surprised. Where did this 32-year-old father of child actor Ronny Howard find the nerve to chime in and pitch changes to their new CBS sitcom? Where did this guy come from?

Our Dad, Rance Howard, born Harold Beckenholdt (11-17-28), was an Oklahoma farm boy who caught the acting bug at age 12, performing in a Christmas pageant in the town’s one-room schoolhouse.

A brief stint at the University of Oklahoma was highlighted when he met his first wife, Jean, at a scene study class. They married in Kentucky while touring as actors in a children’s theater company and ultimately landed in New York. Dad’s big break came when he was cast as Lindstrom in the original Broadway hit “Mister Roberts.”

Dad noticed his first son Ronny loved being around rehearsals, and had a natural aptitude for acting. Despite their reservations, Rance and Jean allowed him to work professionally and Dad was suddenly juggling two acting careers.

TV was moving the business to Los Angeles so Dad packed us up and drove west.

Ronny began working on “The Andy Griffith Show” and little brother, Clint, soon followed in the business.

While flourishing as an actor and writer (penning episodes of the “Flintstones”), he and Mom faced their unique parenting challenges making sure the boys lived as “normal” a life as possible. Park league sports was a valuable release that they made room for. Mom and Dad helped us navigate the tricky waters of the entertainment business like few parents have ever done. Not one day in either of our juvenile careers was a hired, legal guardian used.

Rance and Clint acted together in “Gentle Ben” and a decade later he helped Ron launch his directing career by teaming with him to write “Grand Theft Auto” for Roger Corman.

When our Mom, Jean, developed heart disease, Dad devoted himself to caring for her. Sadly, he had to say goodbye after a 52-year journey. He met playwrite Judy O’Sullivan and was blessed with a second loving marriage before Alzheimer’s took her earlier this year.

Dad joined SAG in 1949 and acted in over 140 films and 177 television shows. From “Zane Grey Theater” through “Chinatown,” “Ed Wood,” “X-Files,” Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” and leads in “Broken Memories” and the upcoming “Appleseed,” Dad continued to evolve his craft.

The effects of West Nile Virus lead to a rapid decline and ultimately heart failure. He wrapped his final acting role and was stricken 36 hours later. He was 89 when he passed.

Oh yeah, back to 1960, after a lunchtime confab with the producers, Andy Griffith approached the 32-year-old father from Oklahoma to reply to his post read-through comment, “You’re right, Rance. Instead of the usual sitcom approach, we want to base the relationship between Andy and Opie on what we see with you and Ronny. I’m glad you spoke up.” The men shook hands and remained friends their entire lives. Dad faced life and the travails of the entertainment business with enthusiasm, dignity, and fearlessness. For that, we’ll be forever grateful.

Ron Howard is an actor, Academy Award-winning filmmaker, and fellow actor Clint Howard’s older brother. Their father, Rance Howard, died on Nov. 25.

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