Do you remember Ron Howard's directorial debut?

Opie directed a script he co-wrote with his father.

By now, Ron Howard is Hollywood royalty. His family is a dynasty and his filmography is untouchable. His appearances on The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days made Howard's face a part of American culture forever. His work directing movies like A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 cemented Howard's legacy as a vital American filmmaker. But long before The Grinch Stole Christmas, and before Howard made a big Splash with Cocoon, he was a very curious actor hoping to learn from the other side of the camera.

In 1977, Ron Howard was just 23-years-old. While he was still Richie Cunningham on Happy Days, he directed his first movie. Despite his popularity as an actor, Howard didn't just decide to direct. He was granted the opportunity in return for appearing in a picture called Eat My Dust! for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. While Howard didn't necessarily speak favorably about Eat My Dust!, it's what got him the chance to direct, a job he'd been eager to try since he was a child.

Because Ron Howard appeared in Eat My Dust!, producer Roger Corman gave him the chance to direct Grand Theft Auto. Howard developed the script alongside his father, Rance. While later movies would net countless awards, at the time, Ron Howard was just a young actor, unproven in the craft of directing movies.

"I never thought about my age while I was doing it," Howard told The Shreveport Journal in '77. "I've been wanting to direct since I was a kid. Francis Coppola was maybe 25 when he started, and Bogdonavich was in his mid-20s, too, so being young doesn't mean you can't do the job."

While Grand Theft Auto never became the cultural touchstone that Howard would achieve with some of his later films, it is where he learned his most valuable lessons.

"Before the film started, I had diagrammed all of the shots," said Howard. "But really, shooting stunt shots is not all that different from shooting dialogue between two people. You just get a shot of a car jumping, a wide shot, and a shot of the car landing.

"I did get panicky on the first day, though. By lunchtime, I had done only four or five shots, and according to my schedule, I was supposed to do 29 shots. I went off to lunch and thought I wasn't going to cut it. But I did, and everyone was very excited because the kid director got it done on the first day."

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7 Comments

BenSobeleone 3 months ago
I actually saw Grand Theft Auto at a second run theater in 1977. It was part of a double feature. The other movie was Cannonball with David Carradine.
Zip 4 months ago
Here is how much Ron Howard is ingrained in our brains as Opie Taylor. When I read that he co-wrote the script with his father, I automatically thought of Andy Griffith. I was actually surprised when the name "Rance" came up.
LoveMETV22 4 months ago
It was nice that Roger Corman gave Ron Howard an opportunity to direct. However with or without that, Ron had a strong desire to pursue that area of the entertainment industry and would likely excel as he has. Although it was probably good experience for him when he was starting out.
daDoctah 4 months ago
Roger Corman had already established himself as a race car buff with his second film "The Fast and the Furious" in 1954.
Runeshaper 4 months ago
Great story, great actor, great director!
justjeff 4 months ago
I never heard of "Eat My Dust", but I do remember the famous Bart Simpson flick "Eat My Shorts"!
cperrynaples 4 months ago
Fun Fact: Marion Ross was in GTA!
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