3 forgotten starring roles Ron Howard had been the Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days
Did you ever see him in a Disney movie, a cop sitcom and a twisty mystery?
Images: The Everett Collection
Ron Howard finished his time on The Andy Griffith Show not long after he entered his teenage years. When American Graffiti hit theaters in 1973, the young star was on the verge of turning 20. That nostalgic masterpiece led to his lead role on the similarly retro-minded Happy Days, which premiered one year later.
Everyone knows Howard as both Opie and Richie, but his teenage years in between go overlooked. In that span, he made memorable appearances on M*A*S*H (playing a Marine with appendicitis in "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet") and Land of the Giants (as giant boy-genius Jodar in "Genius at Work" — not to be confused with his 1965 role as "Genius" in Village of the Giants). He popped in to visit his brother Clint Howard on Gentle Ben a couple of times.
1. The Wild Country
At just 16 years old, Howard (still billed as "Ronny") got his first chance to play a budding action hero of sorts from Walt Disney. The House of Mouse based this 1970 film about Western pioneers on a bestselling 1950 memoir by Ralph Moody titled Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers. Howard, in this case, is the stand-in for Moody, renamed "Virgil Tanner" in this drama about water rights on the Wyoming frontier. Ever protective of his family (Which includes Vera Miles of Psycho as his mother) Virgil attempts to unplug a dam and ends up saving the Tanner clan through violence. Alas, this overlooked Disney film is not yet available on Disney Plus.
Image: The Everett Collection
2. The Smith Family
Yes, Howard starred in a sitcom between his time in Mayberry and Milwaukee — and a rather fascinating one, at that. For starters, the esteemed Henry Fonda portrayed the head of The Smith Family, which should give you some clue that this was not a straight comedy. Hard to imagine the Oscar-winning star of The Grapes of Wrath and On Golden Pond doing slapstick. This ABC series fused drama and comedy, two years before M*A*S*H would popularize and perfect the blend. Fonda's character was a detective and devoted dad, and the show would bound between cop procedural and lighthearted, heartwarming family scenarios. Fun fact: Erin Moran, Howard's future sister on Happy Days, appeared in two episodes.
Image: The Everett Collection
3. Happy Mother's Day, Love George
Opie in a psychological slasher flick? Say it ain't so! Happy Mother's Day, Love George, sometimes titled Run, Stranger, Run, is one of many solid little suspense-horror films that were so prevalent in the early 1970s. The pedigree here was great. Cloris Leachman and Patricia Neal starred, as did former teen idol Bobby Darin. Howard was the central character, however, a young drifter who comes into a small town looking for answers about his upbringing. With knives, secrets and shocking twists, it bridges the gap between Hitchcock and Stephen King. It also happens to be the only feature film directed by Darren McGavin of Kolchak: The Night Stalker and A Christmas Story!
Image: Columbia Pictures