Ron and Clint Howard open up on stress of child stardom in new dual biography

Ron Howard (L) / Clint Howard (R)
Ron Howard (L) / Clint Howard (R) Photo credit Getty Images

It’s hard enough for any child star to make it through the Hollywood machine unscathed. Somehow the Howard family got two kids through, and both proceeded onto successful adult careers.

Now Ron and Clint Howard are explaining how they did it with their new book, "The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family,” a unique Hollywood memoir told by two brothers.

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Ron Howard, known mainly today as a consistently active Hollywood director, got a couple of big breaks in his early career.

First was playing the adorable little scamp, Opie Taylor, on “The Andy Griffith Show” from 1960-68. And then he attained even greater success as the all-American freckled son on the classic ‘70s sitcom, “Happy Days” — sprung from the similar archetypal role he created in the great film, “American Graffiti.”

To overuse the pun Howard is probably really sick of, it wasn’t always happy on the set of the beloved sitcom that had a decade run from 1974-84.

As the New York Post details, when his main character was quickly eclipsed in the pop culture spotlight by Fonzie, actor egos were bruised, especially when ABC even toyed with changing the name of the show to “Fonzie’s Happy Days.”

“The biggest stressor of all was Fonzie. Not Henry [Winkler], but Fonzie. It did not escape my notice that as the season went on, the Fonz was getting more and more screen time,” Howard wrote.

So stressed was the star that he developed a skin condition and started losing his hair.

“I didn’t handle my stress particularly well,” Ron writes. “I probably would have benefited from seeing a psychotherapist … Instead, I kept everything inside. Then I started breaking out in eczema rashes all over my body, most acutely on my eyelids … And my hair started thinning. Looking at the men on both sides of my family, I knew it was inevitable … But it started coming out in alarming clumps during this time.”

Ron might be more of a household name, but his younger brother Clint has created just enough memorable characters — and a funny Instagram presence — to have attained major cult status. He’s a constant on the film fandom convention circuit.

And really, if he’d only created the slimy “Eaglebauer” in the great Ramones' vehicle, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” his status would have been cemented for demented film fans.

If strong hair follicles weren’t in the Howard family, acting chops were. Both parents, Rance and Jean Howard, were actors. The acting brothers’ new biography speaks of that, but mostly focuses on the pair’s television careers.

Usually surrounded by only adults, working on a TV set as a child comes with experiences and revelations that most don’t attain until they’re a bit older. Take the time Andy Griffith — the mythological embodiment of the old fashioned, do-gooder, Christian father — came in one day with a bandaged-up hand. His marriage had been crumbling, and he stated bluntly to Ron, “I got drunk, I got mad, and I put my fist through a door.”

Or when Ron explains he learned the derogatory term word “homo” on the set, as the crew would castigate gay cast member, Jim Nabors.

Lighter tales are told throughout the book, like Ron learning how to “make out convincingly for the camera” from Cindy Williams, years before she was Shirley on the “Happy Days” spinoff, “Laverne & Shirley.”

Clint’s big kid break was on the short-lived adventure show, “Gentle Ben,” that ran from 1967-69. And his co-star revelations are of a far hairier sort — Bruno the bear: “The only negative … was that he smelled. He also took prodigious dumps due to his equally prodigious diet.”

Clint had his share of more seriously negative times as an actor growing up through the 1970s. In the book, he candidly recalls his heavy pot smoking, drinking, and heavier drug use. “I tried to get sober a few times, the first in 1984.” He finally got sober for good on June 14, 1991.

How his brother Ron helped him through that is just another of the many intriguing tales of an acting brotherhood told throughout the Howard’s book.

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