There was a time when Ron Howard was widely known as an actor, given his roles on the highly successful sitcoms “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Happy Days” and star turn in George Lucas’ feature “American Graffiti.”
But he had always wanted to direct and attained that goal when he was 22 with a Roger Corman road comedy “Grand Theft Auto.”
“After that, directing was all I wanted to do,” says the helmer, who will be among recipients of the DGA Honors on Oct. 15. “My dream had been to direct before I was 20; now my goal is direct when I’m 100.”
Besides Howard, Tyler Perry, Thelma Schoonmaker, Teamsters Local 817 president Thomas J. O’Donnell and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are slated to receive DGA Honors.
Howard has directed two dozen films since “Grand Theft Auto” and won an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind” and a DGA Award for “Apollo 13.” But his first films as a DGA member were a trio of TV movies — “Cotton Candy,” “Through the Magic Pyramid” and “Skyward.”
“I was being offered a lot of Cheech and Chong wannabe films, which was understandable because I had been in TV comedies,” he recalls. “The TV movies were a tremendous learning experience for me. Deanne Bankley was a pioneer on TV movies and she liked what I had done on ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ She came to me and said, ‘You can clearly direct from “GTA.” ’ And I’ve had some luck with actors directing like Michael Landon and Beau Bridges. So I came in with 15 or 20 pitches and ‘Cotton Candy’ was the one they liked.”
Howard and his brother Clint cast Charles Martin Smith as the lead in a battle of the bands story.
“It came together so fast and I had to do it on my hiatus from ‘Happy Days’; Clint and I worked on the script on weekends. We even did some backup scripts because (NBC chief) Brandon Tartikoff thought we might do a series.
“We didn’t have the money for extras, so I got on the radio and asked people to show up for the concert scene in Dallas,” Howard recalls. “So it was like a dream come true with Charlie playing a song he really liked. That provided me with a sense of accomplishment that I’d never felt before. I like acting a lot, but I never felt the same way about it as I did when I directed.”
Howard received an Emmy nomination for “Through the Magic Pyramid,” the story of a modern kid going back in time to meet King Tut.
“So we had chariots and tombs and palaces and vfx. I was exhausted. I was allowed to produce and had a financial responsibility for the overages.”
“Skyward” starred Bette Davis. “Bette loved the role but she was skeptical about working for a 25-year-old director. She kept calling me Mr. Howard. I told her that she could call me Ron and she said, ‘I will call you Mr. Howard until I decide whether I like you.’ So on the first day, I walked up to her and greeted her and she said, ‘I saw this child walking up to me and wondered what he wanted.’ But later on I gave her a piece of direction and it worked and at the end of the day, I said, ‘It was a wonderful first day. Thanks and see you tomorrow.’ And she said, ‘OK, Ron, see you tomorrow’ and patted me on the ass.”
Howard’s professional life began to change quickly after young producer Brian Grazer noticed “Skyward,” which led to the Michael Keaton-Henry Winkler comedy “Night Shift.”
“By the time I was on ‘Night Shift,’ I’d had to have made hard decisions on films with my own money on the line,” Howard recalls. “It was humbling and encouraging to have done those. ‘Night Shift’ was the first time I’d gotten to shoot in New York. It’s a city that demands your attention and does not support passivity. You kind of can’t shoot a bad shot there. I did ‘Splash,’ ‘The Paper,’ ‘Ransom’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind’ there, too. But nothing since.”
(Pictured: Ron Howard on the set of “In the Heart of the Sea.”)