The Transformation Of Ron Howard From 6 To 67 Years Old

Ron Howard first appeared on the big screen when he could barely talk in the 1956 movie "Frontier Woman." His parents were also in the film, and his father Rance recalled to Nick Thomas of the Jackson Sun, "...we wanted to somehow get Ron into the picture, too. He was only 18 months old, but we thought it would be wonderful for our parents to see their grandson in a movie with us." Ron's parents took away a tomahawk prop right before filming, which caused him to cry during his scene. This started young Ron's acting career, and soon after, his brother Clint's career. 

Both men wrote a collective memoir in 2021 called "The Boys" about their experiences growing up in show business, per The Washington Post. After his long-term role as Richie Cunningham in the classic sitcom "Happy Days," Howard transitioned into directing. Behind the camera, he often teamed up with actor Tom Hanks. The two worked together in "Splash," "Apollo 13," and two movies based on the Robert Ludlum books "Angels & Demons" and "The Da Vinci Code." Howard also sprinkled in some voice work during his career, further showcasing his many talents.

With such a long tenure in Hollywood, Howard has dealt with surprises, tragedies, disappointment, and triumphs — both in his personal life and in his movies. But through it all, he persisted and continued to delight fans in any way possible.

From a child star to an industry veteran, this is the transformation of Ron Howard from 6 to 67 years old.

The early career of Ron Howard

After his first time on screen in 1956, Ron Howard — often credited as Ronny Howard — appeared in multiple small roles in TV. This included a handful of episodes of "Dennis the Menace" and a small part in an episode of "The Twilight Zone." In his scene from the episode "Walking Distance," young Howard's character learns all about marbles from a man in a suit. A user on Twitter tagged Howard in a link to the video, and the actor confirmed that it was indeed him delivering the lines. He commented, "i remember this scene. i was still 5."

Ron Howard's biggest breakthrough then came as Opie Taylor in "The Andy Griffith Show." The series debuted in 1960 when Howard was around the age of six. In the series, he played the adorable young son to Griffith's character, as seen in a clip from the first episode. But Ron wasn't the only Howard who would go on to charm audiences. His younger brother, Clint, also started acting, which made Ron jealous. "I felt envy over what Clint was achieving," Ron told The New York Times. He said his brother was "was really popular at school, an excellent athlete, gregarious, smart, confident. Things that I don't necessarily feel or exude." As for his brother's abilities on screen, Ron confessed Clint "was a hell of a good child actor."

Ron Howard was a little music man

Soon after his debut in "The Andy Griffith Show," Ron Howard landed his biggest movie to date. He played one of his most iconic characters as an actor, little Winthrop Paroo in the 1962 film "The Music Man." Over 50 years later, Howard still vividly remembered his experience from the role. On an episode of "IMDb Me," Howard recited his line at the same time during a clip from the movie, including the adorable lisp that Winthrop spoke with. "It takes a lot of work to get a six-year-old kid to remember a line like that. So, I think I must have gone over that one about a thousand times," Howard recalled.

Not just lines — Howard also remembered songs from the movie music. On "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," Howard explained how he had just turned seven at the time of filming his "first big, high-profile feature." The interview took place in the same studio where "The Music Man" shot many scenes, so Howard said returning "brings back a lot of memories." One of these memories was the "Wells Fargo Wagon" number that he sang for the audience during the interview, once again with that same lisp.

Inside Ron Howard's teenage years

As a teenager, Ron Howard appeared in various TV shows outside of his long run on "The Andy Griffith Show." For example, he was in an episode of the wilderness adventure program "Daniel Boone." In his episode, "A Man Before His Time," in 1969, Howard played a "moody teenager ... the son of a killed fugitive bent on revenge," MeTV recapped. He also joined "Gentle Ben" for a few episodes of the series about the titular bear. Both his father Rance and younger brother Clint were already regulars on the show.

Even though Ron Howard's career was taking off, he admitted things weren't so bright off camera. The star told The New York Times, "The system is set up to make child performers feel like failures as they go through adolescence, that most vulnerable period, and I was beginning to experience that." Also, his run ended on "The Andy Griffith Show" when the series wrapped in 1968. 

But looking back, Howard said that his time on the show helped him learn things he would use later in Hollywood. "He taught me a great deal through the examples he set and the approach to our work on the set," Howard told the Los Angeles Times about working with Griffith. "I learned about comedic timing, paying off characters in the third act of a story line, and the equal values of both focused rehearsal and, at particular moments, of total chaotic spontaneity," Howard added.

Happy days for Ron Howard?

In 1974, Ron Howard was cast as the star of a new sitcom called "Happy Days." The show was a hit, but not entirely due to Howard's character, Richie Cunningham. In fact, his co-star Henry Winkler, who played Greaser Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli, was often stealing the show. In his memoir "The Boys," Howard wrote, "It did not escape my notice that as the season went on, the Fonz was getting more and more screen time," via the New York Post. He said the Fonzie character taking over contributed to major stress at the start of the series. "I didn't handle my stress particularly well ... I kept everything inside," Howard remembered.

The Fonz became so popular, so quickly, that the network even considered rebranding the show. Reportedly, ABC suggested renaming the show "Fonzie's Happy Days" (per the New York Post). But the series creator would only do so if Howard agreed to the change. Luckily for everyone involved, Howard didn't approve. Instead, the actor had bigger issues to deal with. As a result of Winkler taking his spotlight, Howard revealed he physically suffered beyond a hit to his ego. "I started breaking out in eczema rashes all over my body, most acutely on my eyelids," he said. This also was the start of Howard's hair loss at a young age. Though he considered it "inevitable" thanks to his family history, Howard said his hair began "coming out in alarming clumps during this time."

How Ron and Cheryl Howard met

On November 1, 1970, Ron Howard went out with a young woman named Cheryl Alley. On their first date, the couple "went to see a re-release of Stanley Kramer's 'It's a Mad Mad Mad World' and then got some pizza at now defunct Barnone's in Toluca Lake," Howard said in an Instagram post. The two hit it off and started seeing each other. In another Instagram post, Howard showed a photo of the first time Cheryl visited him on set. In the caption of the picture, he noted Cheryl came to watch him work on "The Smith Family" in December 1970. "Lucky me," he sweetly said, noting that they married five years later. 

On Twitter, Ron Howard shared a delightful photo of he and Cheryl on their wedding day. In attendance to see the couple get married were two men who played his dad on screen — Andy Griffith, and Tom Bosley from "Happy Days."

Cheryl and Ron remained happily married as she stood by the his side while his career in Hollywood blossomed. On Instagram in 2020, Ron said he and Cheryl were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their first date. In addition to wearing socks with her face on them, the star said he and his wife planned "a trip to our local take-out pizza place." Even cuter, he said, "We'll be driving in the same '70 VW Bug I picked Cheryl up in 5 decades ago. It runs great. So do we."

Ron Howard wore many hats

Though he easily could have continued his career as an actor alone, Ron Howard decided to expand his skillset in movies and started directing. In fact, Howard began making his own movies as a boy. Film School Rejects recapped a short film created by a young Howard. The project, called "Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death," stars Ron and his little brother Clint. The boys are playing cards, dressed in full-on Western getups, "when someone is accused of cheatin'. Young Ronny shoots the culprit. Then little Clint kills his brother before being shot in the back by another man for some reason," Film School Rejects summarized.

In 1977, Howard directed his first major motion picture, "Grand Theft Auto." He was also the star of the film. "Only time I've ever done that, and probably the only time I ever will," Howard confessed on an episode of "IMDb Me." As Howard explained, he pitched his best ideas to movie producer Roger Corman, including a science fiction and noir style flick. In response, Corman told him that the name "Grand Theft Auto" tested well in a search for film titles. So, based simply on the name alone, the producer asked Howard to draft a "car crash comedy starring yourself" that would fit the title. According to Howard, he drafted the outline of the story in about 36 hours.

Ron Howard became a father

Ron and Cheryl Howard had their first child together in 1981 and named her Bryce Dallas. She became a popular actor for roles in the rebooted "Jurassic World" in 2015, "The Help," and "Gold." She told Google that "Bryce" came from Bryce Canyon National Park. The famous site in Utah is known for its spectacular sand colors, often in a reddish hue. Since both her parents were redheads, Bryce said "they knew that was going to happen" in regard to her red hair. As for the Dallas part, she revealed it was the city where she was conceived.

Ron posted a photo on Instagram showing the famous dad with baby Bryce Dallas. He's seen holding his daughter at his friend Donny Most's wedding in 1982. "In fact she took her first steps during Don & Morgan's ceremony," Ron explained about his daughter in the caption.

Growing up around a famous director meant that Bryce was familiar with movie sets at a young age. She even appeared as an extra in her dad's film "Parenthood." The actor told CBS that she loved her experiences so much that "when I would be grounded, they would ground me from the set, because they knew, like, I did not want to risk that!" When her dad once actually banned her from his set, Bryce told him, "You're ruining my life! How could you do this to me?"

Ron Howard's inexperience helped him

After a ten-year run, the sitcom "Happy Days" came to an end in 1984. Ron Howard had concluded his time as series star in 1980 but would return for two 1983 episodes and the show's finale. Prior to the last episode, Howard already had a few directing experiences, including "Night Shift" in 1982 featuring his "Happy Days" co-star and lifelong friend, Henry Winkler. But these films weren't blockbusters, and Howard was still working his way up in the industry. 

In an interview for Yahoo!, Howard said around this time "actors didn't trust [him] that much" because he wasn't very established yet. When he was set to direct a family film about a mermaid, Howard revealed the biggest actors in romantic comedies like Chevy Chase and John Travolta weren't interested in working with him. As a result, this opened the door for Tom Hanks, who at the time, was simply an '80s TV star on the ABC sitcom "Bosom Buddies." When Hanks auditioned for the film "Splash," he read for the character that ultimately went to John Candy. Howard remembered Hanks from a guest part on "Happy Days" and asked him to read for the lead. The studio agreed with Howard's suggestion, and it helped launch Hanks' incredible career in film.

Surprisingly, "Splash" almost never happened. Howard said on the "IMDb Me" web series that he had a difficult time getting the film launched because there was a competing mermaid movie at the time. Disney came on board, and because of the on-screen romance, "Splash" was PG and became the first film under Disney's Touchstone division.

Ron Howard's fiery experience

Rolling into the '90s, Howard was becoming more comfortable behind the camera. He then planned to make a realistic drama about the intense pressures and dangers of firefighting in his 1991 movie "Backdraft." The stakes were high for everyone involved, especially the director. Howard posted a photo on Instagram where he is seen sitting on the ground grabbing his legs during production in Chicago. He explained in the caption, "I'd say this young director was wishing things could be going quicker on the set that day but couldn't do anything but hunker down and wait."

Things worked out well, and the movie received praise for its special effects. Even more impressive, the director created these effects using physical camera tricks instead of digital effects. This made "the action sequences harrowingly immersive, using a combination of miniatures, matte work, full-sized sets and actual flames," The Hollywood Reporter recapped about the film. According to the director, while filming, he had "a team of 10 Chicago firefighters around us at all times with extinguishers at the ready." Though the flames behaved as expected more often than not, he confessed the real life firefighters needed to step in "on occasion."

Another one of Howard's memories on set was of Robert De Niro. He said the veteran actor prepared for his role by meeting with actual fire investigators, like the one he played on screen. "It was a master class in preparation and application," Howard said of De Niro after watching his scenes.

Into space with Ron Howard

With the experience of "Backdraft" under his belt, Ron Howard was able to attempt an even more difficult production in terms of special effects. In preparation for his 1995 film "Apollo 13," Howard planned to use wires and other tricks from films like "2001: A Space Odyssey" to give the impression of weightlessness in the space scenes. But famous director Steven Spielberg had an even better idea. As Howard told Yahoo!, Spielberg suggested using low-gravity airplane rides like real NASA astronauts used to do for training. During these flights, a capsule would be bolted to the aircraft and inside, the astronauts would experience simulated zero gravity. Howard consulted captain Jim Lovell, the real-life commander of the Apollo 13 space mission, on the plan to bolt part of the set onto the plane. Luckily, the astronaut successfully convinced NASA to let Howard and the crew try a test flight. "It was an amazing experience," Howard said.

Another special aspect of the film was that Hanks' on-screen mom was played by Howard's real-life mother Jean Speegle Howard. Ron was initially hesitant to offer his mom the job. "I'm so happy my dad twisted my arm," Howard told Entertainment Tonight. "I really didn't think Mom was old enough to do it, and I was also just frankly nervous about it because I knew what a pivotal role it was," Ron admitted. But it all worked out because he said in the end, "she really knocked it out of the park."

Ron Howard finally earned recognition

Sadly, Ron Howard started the new millennium with tragic news. In 2000, his mom, Jean Speegle Howard, died at the age of 73. As reported by ABC, "After sons Ron and Clint were established in their careers, she began acting on-screen, appearing in 10 films and many TV shows before ill health forced her into retirement." 

While dealing with this heartbreaking news, Ron Howard was on the verge of a huge career breakthrough. In 2001, he released the film "A Beautiful Mind" starring Russell Crowe as a brilliant mathematician. The film was a huge success with critics and was one of the hottest films at the Academy Awards held in 2002. First, Howard won the best director award — the first Oscar of his career. He beat out an impressive field in the category, including Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, and David Lynch. Then, in the biggest prize of the night, Howard and his producer Brian Grazer took home the award for best picture. Fittingly, Howard's long-time star actor Tom Hanks presented the award and handed the director his second Oscar.

Even though the movie became a high point in his career, Ron Howard never revisited the incredible story. "Boy, I haven't seen 'Beautiful Mind' since it was released in theaters," he told Entertainment Tonight. "I don't look back too often, I just stay busy and I'm always onto the next project. But I have great memories of it," the director said.

Ron Howard's new job off-screen

Between 1988 and 1998, Ron Howard had a big gap in his acting career. He voiced the character of himself in two episodes of "The Simpsons" in 1998 and 1999, and made a cameo on "Frasier." But his voiceover work alluded to a future opportunity in the early aughts. Howard became involved with the quirky and completely unique series "Arrested Development" starting in 2003. He employed dense jokes and chopped-up timelines to create a more unexpected show like "The Simpsons." 

In an episode of "IMDb Me," Howard said that he and "Arrested Development" creator Mitchell Hurwitz discussed potentially using a narrator as part of the story. Hurwitz convinced Howard to record a temporary track as the show's narrator. After testing scenes with an audience, the fans were in love with Howard's voice. The creator told Howard, "the narrator was the highest testing element." Since the network wanted to green-light the project, Hurwitz told Howard, "you have to do the series." This test run turned into five seasons for Howard as the narrator, spanning from 2003 to 2019.

Soon after starting "Arrested Development," Ron Howard continued to pick up accolades for his work in the entertainment industry. In 2003, he received the prestigious National Medal of the Arts for his "critically acclaimed films" in addition to his early acting work. Then his 2008 film "Frost/Nixon" earned Howard best director and best picture nominations.

How Ron Howard linked up with Jay-Z

In 2012, Jay-Z founded the Made in America Festival. He hosted the musical event in Philadelphia, the city where he found rappers as Roc-a-Fella Records' CEO and co-founder, Vibe recapped. In a surprising pairing, Jay-Z looked to Ron Howard to tell the story behind the music. Howard told The Guardian about the connection, "I met Jay Z through my partner at Imagine films, Brian Grazer, who has always loved hip-hop." The director told the rap legend, "I don't know much about music, I know very little about hip-hop, and I've never made a documentary." Also, Howard admitted that prior to the event, he barely recognized any of the featured artists. 

Still, he signed on to be the director of the official documentary about the festival called "Made in America." While working on the project, Jay-Z warned Howard about dealing with Odd Future, the rap collective that featured Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator. "I think he thought they might pants me or spray shaving cream all over my bald head! But they were really great," Howard revealed to The Guardian.

​​Back in scripted projects, Howard was fresh off his 2011 film "The Dilemma" starring Vince Vaughn, Winona Ryder, Kevin James, and Jennifer Connelly. According to The Guardian, the film "was met with critical contempt and box office apathy. Audiences then and now are befuddled by it."

Ron Howard went back to the stars

Piling on the recognition, Ron Howard received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the Film category in 2015. This was his second star on the famous strip of sidewalk, with his first in 1981 for Television. Ron's ease around cameras started as an infant, thanks to his dad, Rance Howard, as both men made their film debut in "Frontier Woman," via Jackson Sun. Sadly, Rance died in 2017. Ron posted the news on Twitter and said of his dad: "A depression-era farm boy, his passion for acting changed the course of our family history." When Ron went on to be a director, he used his father in several films, including "Apollo 13," "A Beautiful Mind," and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." According to The New York Times, Rance helped Ron write his directorial debut, "Grand Theft Auto."

One year later, Ron revisited his early days in Hollywood with director George Lucas. Ron was an actor in Lucas' movie "American Graffiti," and the "Star Wars" creator was a producer on Howard's film "Willow." So, when Ron began working on the 2018 film "Solo: A Star Wars Story," he knew exactly who to call. Ron explained on an "IMDb Me" episode that Lucas essentially told him, "Follow your instinct. Don't worry about rules." One of his most memorable moments on set was Chewbacca giving him a hug in costume after applauding the actor for a scene well done.

Ron Howard hasn't stopped filmmaking

Even a Hollywood legend like Ron Howard isn't immune from criticism after a long resume of winning movies. On paper, his directorial effort paired with two superb actors — Amy Adams and Glenn Close — should have been a hit. Instead, his 2020 film released on Netflix called "Hillbilly Elegy" was a complete disaster with critics. The Atlantic called it "one of the worst movies of the year." The film adaptation of a 2016 memoir was supposed to be uplifting but instead came off as "polished yet utterly inert."

Even if one of his movies flops, Howard is often already working on the next one. For example, he planned to direct the Hollywood retelling of the incredible 2018 cave rescue in Thailand. To create his version, called "Thirteen Lives," Howard and crew relocated to Australia to film. The director said he has enjoyed filming on the continent, especially because he's worked with some of its most famous actors — "Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Chris Hemsworth," he told Variety. "I am excited about the opportunity to film and work in Australia and dramatically expand on that list of collaborators whose sensibilities and work ethic I have long admired and respected," he added. As reported by Deadline, Howard signed Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, and Joel Edgerton to dramatize "the rescue of twelve boys and their soccer coach from a flooded, impenetrable cave system in Thailand in 2018."