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    Monday, July 22, 2024

    Ron and Clint Howard on their breezy, brotherly Hollywood memoir

    From left, Clint Howard and Ron Howard (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for SiriusXM/TNS)
    Ron and Clint Howard on their breezy, brotherly Hollywood memoir

    "Clint, you're sideways."

    "Well, I either have to be sideways or upside down. What's better?"

    "Sideways," says Ron Howard, steady helmsman of about 30 features and documentaries. Brother Clint Howard, five years his junior and proud owner of more than 250 acting credits, nods with something like satisfaction. His image on the screen remains sideways, and his older sibling allows the slightest of smiling head shakes — a silent "That's my brother."

    In tank top and wildish white hair, Clint looks in character for a movie located deep in the woods of North Carolina, but he's in the state for an "Andy Griffith Show" fan event (Ron, of course, played young Opie on that '60s hit, while Clint had a beloved recurring role as Leon, the kid cowboy armed with a sandwich). During a Zoom interview, Ron talks more than Clint, is more functionally illuminated and moves less. Gravity-defying Clint is side-lighted by a window, somewhat deferential to big brother but more animated and quick to guffaw.

    The brothers had runs of acting success as kids, Ron on "Andy Griffith" and others and Clint all over, including as the non-ursine star of "Gentle Ben." After starring in "Happy Days," grown-up Ron directed such films as "Apollo 13" and "A Beautiful Mind," winning Oscars for directing and producing the latter. Clint became one of the more recognizable character faces in movies and on TV shows such as "Star Trek" and "Mod Squad."

    Now they're in their 60s and have together written a book of the Howards: "The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family," about their experiences growing up in the business and coming out more or less sane.

    Ron had been approached over the years by publishers seeking an autobiography, but he hadn't wanted to do it. He says frequent collaborator Tom Hanks, a published author himself, told him: "'You probably should, but focus entirely on your childhood. That's what everybody's curious about.' And he was right."

    The brothers have been asked all their lives about growing up in the business, but it took a major life milestone to spur them to finally put it all down.

    "When our father passed away" in 2017, said Ron, "he was the second of our parents to pass; we had that experience of suddenly being grown men who were orphans. Preparing the memorial for Dad entailed a lot of looking back, which is not something I think either Clint or I particularly do a lot of." He adds that "Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown (whose Robert Langdon novels have been made into hit movies by Howard and Hanks) urged him to write the memoir jointly with Clint.

    Clint says, "The way the book lays out is very much the rhythm of Ron and I's relationship. Ron is an awesome, awesome big brother. And yet we share 180-degree shifts in attitudes and perceptions about things. He was the first kid. He was a lot more sheltered than I was."

    Clint razzes his brother for his "half-ass jump shot" (Ron coached Clint's youth basketball team, leading them to a championship) and recalls how he demanded profit-sharing and other perks when acting in Ron's earliest short films.

    Ron says, "Clint came out of the womb with a sense of humor, a raised eyebrow, a skeptic's view. He's an extrovert. I've always been impressed with his wit and his confidence, the way he faces the world. I've always been more cautious. Some of that probably came from my early years as a child actor, where I felt like I didn't quite fit in, like I was 'other.' I felt that in a way that Clint never seemed to or bend to."

    Ron was a first-grader when he was cast on "Andy Griffith" in 1960; he was in eighth grade when it ended. When they weren't at a one-room studio school, he and Clint attended a string of Burbank public schools rather than highfalutin private ones; their parents held the bulk of their earnings in trust rather than indulging in a fancy Hollywood lifestyle. That also meant, however, that his celebrity status had its ups and downs.

    "I watched Ron navigate being 'Opie-shamed' and picked on," says Clint. One of the more surprising nuggets in the book is that Ron — frozen in the public consciousness as squeaky-clean TV nice characters — got in plenty of fights as a kid, facing down bullies looking to take Opie down a peg, sometimes on his front lawn as his parents looked on. "I had a huge advantage of having Ron to be the wonderful example."

    The book has its share of showbiz reminiscences: Tales of Burt Lancaster showing up at a production's motel to carry on a long-running affair; Harrison Ford and Paul Le Mat bombing poor "Opie" with beer bottles in a motel parking lot during the making of "American Graffiti"; Bob Gibson and Bart Starr appearing on "Gentle Ben." The volume and olfactory signatures of the sweat of some of young Ron's adult co-stars are among the more vivid recollections.

    But more than anything, "The Boys" is about how their father, Rance Howard, and mother, Jean Speegle Howard, shaped them and their careers. Jean gave up her acting dreams early on in service of the family; Rance pursued his until the end while mentoring their sons in the business. Ron says the brothers' "survival" through the perils of Hollywood (including Clint's struggles with addiction, described in the book) had "everything to do with our upbringing and the kind of offbeat parental sensibility that affected us in such a powerful way."

    (HarperCollins Publishers/TNS)

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