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“What was it like to grow up on television?” is a question Ron Howard and Clint Howard have been asked their whole lives. Perhaps because both quickly experienced what could be surmised as the Hollywood fairy tale, and what began as organic starts to the industry transitioned to a successful career as child actors and becoming household names, with Ron as an award-winning filmmaker and Clint an actor with over 200 credits. But despite growing up in showbiz, Ron and Clint Howard were always just “the boys,” as they title their new memoir, out Tuesday from William Morrow.
In The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family, Ron, 67, and Clint, 62, pull back the curtains to not only offer readers a portrait of their Hollywood journeys but provide the myriad of puzzle pieces that ultimately formulated who they were and the “unorthodox” and “brilliant” parenting from their parents, Rance and Jean Speegle Howard.
When speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of their memoir’s release, Ron and Clint Howard explain that writing helped them make sense and come to terms with their formative years.
“This was an opportunity to look back with sort of our perspective and understand how we actually survived this journey and how much this kind of combination of really brilliant parenting and some good luck and some great professional associations really enabled and empowered us to achieve this,” Ron Howard tells THR.
Throughout the memoir’s pages, Ron and Clint transport readers to the 1960s and ‘70s as they outline their childhoods while in the midst of showbiz. Ron writes in detail about his starring roles as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days, whereas Clint reflects on famous roles in such series as Star Trek and Gentle Ben. Though their parents had acting aspirations — they both left Oklahoma to pursue their ambitions — their mother, Jean, eventually gave up her dreams to be a constant presence for their family. Meanwhile, Rance pursued acting while also mentoring Ron and Clint. As the young brothers found individual successes on various projects, their parents placed their earnings in trust and consistently offered support, guidance and patience through the ups and downs of newfound fame. The unified bond and supportive upbringing ultimately impacted them in more ways than they realized.
“Writing The Boys required us to boil down a lot of our life. Our story is rich with events and emotions. What I found amazing about Mom and Dad after we had finished the book was just how consistent they were. I always knew they were great parents but I never before recognized how magical they were,” Clint tells THR.
After their parents passed away — their mother in 2000 and father in 2017 — there was a moment of introspection with now being orphans. Ron credits Tom Hanks and Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown (Brown’s novels have been adapted into films by Hanks and Howard) for being champions of their memoir from the start. “Tom Hanks read it and, in a way, it was his idea for me to write about my childhood,” Ron says. “And then when he heard that Clint was going to join, he thought that was fantastic. He’s a fine writer and we asked him to look at some chapters early on.” Meanwhile, David Kamp also assisted in shaping the memoir and collecting their stories into a structured narrative. The memoir is presented as a dual narrative, with Ron and Clint individually offering their thoughts and stories while also sharing banter in between.
“The structure of the way we wrote was, in my mind, very organic,” Clint explains. “I just wanted to be honest and open as my dad and mom always encouraged me to be. The banter between Ron and I, these are ideas and conversations that we’ve had not about our lives, but just everything in general. This is very natural for us to agree and disagree and have a different take on it.”
Clint also explains that he might not have been able to write a memoir unless he joined forces with Ron: “A lot of people think writing is a solitary process. I could not have written a book by myself at this point in my life, but going in with Ron, I knew that we can lean against each other. It’s a team game.”
It wasn’t until presenting their book proposal to publishers that, Ron says, they realized they could really explore their story further. He tells THR, “It was emotional for us, and it seemed to be emotional for those publishers who were reading it and we knew we could delve even more deeply into that very specific experience with all of the ups and downs.”
Clint adds, “I feel like we were honest, and I think we’re going to give the audience kind of more than they expect.”
Throughout the memoir, readers can expect Ron and Clint to offer reminiscences of the golden age of live television with mentions and stories with myriad Hollywood legends such as the late Cloris Leachman, George Lucas and Harrison Ford. In one passage, Ron reflects on first meeting Leachman while she walked around in a bikini (Ron writes the actress was 47 years old at the time), while in another Clint recalls Eddie Murphy approaching him at a party to express his love for Gentle Ben. They also write about playing on the Happy Days softball team, with Clint teaching Henry Winkler how to pitch.
But with the perks and glitz and glam of Hollywood came the stress, a loss of a sense of identity and the downside to being a celebrity, especially at a young age.
When Ron attended school while also starring on The Andy Griffith Show, he remembers being bullied and feeling singled out. He writes that during his first week back at school, he didn’t feel safe going to the restroom because bigger boys would pick on him, or he’d be called “Opie” and pushed into fights.
“In retrospect, it was definitely anxiety-provoking, particularly going back to the public schools. The life that’s supposed to be quote normal and finding it alienating and even a little threatening and frightening at times, and yet learning to navigate that and cope with that … and then understanding how that somehow made me different in the world. I had to accept that in a way,” Ron says, adding, “I wanted to connect, relate, understand and enjoy the world the way my friends did. And I did learn how to do that but there was always something that made me a little bit [like an] other … I don’t think people would’ve thought that was a difficulty or a challenge that I was particularly coping with.”
When The Andy Griffith Show wrapped for its final season in 1968, Ron also came to the realization that Hollywood wasn’t demanding him for other roles, he writes. Meanwhile, Clint also reflects on experiencing the harsh reality that success as a child actor may not automatically continue through adolescence and the validation and affirmation once felt can quickly vanish.
“All of a sudden, we had very successful juvenile careers. I mean, almost unparalleled. And yet then it dried up pretty quick and we could see kind of a dark horizon,” Clint explains. “And maybe it’d be different if you could handle it at 25 years old. But … the way it works out with kids facing 15, 16, 17 years old and not working in the business and maybe being cast aside, it’s not a good thing.”
“We just began to realize [when] looking back that this notion of us surviving and even flourishing, and then transitioning into adulthood in a constructive, positive way was a mission. It was a challenge. It was a journey. For us living through it at the time, it was our lives but, looking back on it, we recognized just how fraught it was in various ways,” Ron says. “The business is sort of set up for child thespians to fail, ultimately, and on an emotional level, it’s supercharged with anxiety-provoking aspects.”
Clint also writes that his “professional downturn” coincided with experimentation with alcohol and smoking, which would lead to a period of addiction. When chronicling his journey to sobriety for the memoir, Clint says, he simply feels “gratitude” when thinking of that time in his life. “I’m extremely grateful that things fell the way they fell and, you know, God was there for me when I couldn’t take care of myself — and then my parents were there for me. I’m 62 years old and I can get on the pity pot with the best of them. And yet, I can go back and go, ‘Listen, I’m in a lot better spot now than I would have been. Life is good. Let’s hitch my trousers up and carry on.’ I loved writing about my life. I really enjoyed it and, you know, [it was] very cathartic.”
Ron adds, “I appreciated Clint’s candor and his honesty. One of the most constructive aspects of the book is recognizing what Clint navigated. His journey to sobriety, I think, probably made our parents prouder than anything any of us achieved in front of, or behind the camera, to be honest.”
Other struggles they write about include their mom facing health woes and anxiety — they realize now she most likely suffered from OCD — and their dad struggling to secure roles. Ron also details feeling marginalized behind the scenes of Happy Days, as ABC began to focus on Henry Winkler’s Fonzie. Ron would eventually leave to pursue his dream of becoming a director — he would go on to direct classics Apollo 13, Splash and A Beautiful Mind, for which he won an Academy Award.
Of walking away, Ron says it marked “a coming-of-age story or a maturation event” for him and “motivated me to take that next step and transition to pursue that dream: a career where I would have more autonomy, more control and be focusing on a leadership role, being a filmmaker and a director and a producer, eventually launching [Imagine] with Brian Grazer.”
He tells THR, “I look back on that moment and decision as pivotal and a life lesson. It revealed to me that many choices down the road were going to be imperfect ones. In this case, I had to leave a close-knit collection of colleagues who had become people I loved in order to pursue professional goals which I had zero certainty I could actually achieve. I’ve become more familiar with those damn double-edged swords … but never comfortable.”
Their Hollywood careers aside, the underlying thread of the memoir is centered on their parents and how their guidance and support shaped them as the men they are today. In working on the memoir, they say, they were able to understand their parents better and “know more about their origin story, which is very romantic [and] very offbeat.” And despite growing up in an industry where they could easily have failed, their parents’ willingness to put aside their own showbiz dreams to act as a constant moral compass to their children led to their ultimate survival.
“What our parents did was kind of like a high-wire act over a minefield, and to be able to share the stories that reflect those challenges and those times that were both really thrilling and even hilarious at times but also emotionally treacherous,” Ron says. He also praises their parents for doing “their best work” when they transitioned into early adulthood.
“From Clint’s side of things, it was that very intelligent kind of support through that journey to sobriety. For me it had a lot to do with recognizing my need to sort of move beyond family collaboration and that safety net of writing scripts with my father and producing projects with my father and moving into a world where I was going to expand that horizon. That transition was supported with a kind of a guilt-free measure of grace that I think I always recognized, but in writing the book made me very emotional to understand how difficult that might’ve been for my parents. … If it was easy for them, then they truly are outliers, which maybe they are. I think they’re kind of geniuses when it came to parenting.”
Clint also credits their work ethic to that of their parents’ upbringing: “Dad grew up on a farm. Dad started actually working [and] doing official adult chores when he was 5 or 6 years old … and the farm life is not an easy life. The cows need milking, and the chickens need feeding. Farmers don’t take vacations. So, the work has to get done. That was something that was instilled in Ron and I from the get-go and, and we took it into suburbia and then we took it on a movie set.”
As the Howards prepare for readers to journey into their parents’ and their stories, Clint compares the anticipation to that of “doing an acting job and then waiting for it to be shown and then having the audience react to it.”
“Now that we’re finished, the fact that we’re going to run it up the flagpole and hope the public salutes is something that brings a smile to my face,” he says.
Meanwhile, Ron hopes that their memoir will not only offer a fun behind-the-scenes glimpse of their Hollywood lives but also inspire readers along the way: “I hope people find it fun to look back and behind the scenes through our lens at that era of American entertainment. And also, to take some inspiration from the way our parents found their way to making it possible for our family to mostly flourish, but more importantly to ultimately survive the unique journey we were all on together.”
The Boys will be released Tuesday.
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