Joining Opie's boy gang was the ultimate fun for these child actors
Plus: Ron Howard described what it was like to be in the boy gang on Dennis the Menace.
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Is there any kid on earth who didn't dream of owning a pony?
Even Opie in Mayberry pined for a pony in the Andy Griffith Show episode "A Deal Is a Deal," competing with his pals Johnny Paul Jason, Trey Bowden and Howie Pruitt to sell enough miracle salve to win a pony.
"I don't see how anybody's gonna win that pony," Opie says, expressing the discouragement all the boys feel after going door to door and selling none of their salve.
"We'll never win," Howie says, echoing Opie's defeat.
In Mayberry, Opie has his own boy gang that is central to the plot of episodes like this one, and for child star Ron Howard, being part of these boy gangs in the Sixties was a rare moment of rambunctiousness in his mostly orderly adult world.
Dennis Rush played Howie Pruitt, and he said he got cast on The Andy Griffith Show and other Sixties shows to fill out these boy gangs.
"They were always looking for certain types," Rush told Mt. Airy News. "They always needed a tall kid, a fat kid, a freckle-faced kid. Well, I was the freckle-faced kid."
For Opie's gang, it looks like the aim was to gather boys about the same height as Ron Howard. Keith Thibodeaux as Johnny Paul Jason plugs in as a brunette buddy and David Alan Bailey as Trey Bowden plugs in as Opie's blond friend, with Rush being plugged in as the freckle-faced kid in the middle.
Rush considered Ron and Keith "Hollywood royalty" because they starred in sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy.
"I worked with a lot of kid actors, but when you work with Ron Howard and Keith Thibodeaux, these were the two giants of kid acting, and two of the nicest guys you could ever imagine," Rush said.
Meanwhile, Bailey was a holdover from another boy gang that Opie joined before The Andy Griffith Show, when Howard joined Bailey as part of Dennis' boy gang on Dennis the Menace.
Howard said that appearing on Dennis the Menace was the moment when it began to dawn on him that he was really on TV, because he was acting on shows he actually liked. He called his time on the Jay North show "fantastic."
"I was kind of part of Jay North's gang on that show, which was always fun, fun to be around the other kids," Howard told the Television Academy.
The only boy gang that Howard wished he could've joined in classic TV history was Beaver's.
"I always kind of wanted to be on Leave It to Beaver, because I just loved that show," Howard said.
Instead, Howard had to settle for a visit to Beaver's set, which he said was a fun time, too.
After Howard joined The Andy Griffith Show, we'd see his boy gang feature in episodes like "Opie and His Merry Men," "One Punch Opie," and "Opie's Newspaper." Rush said he was always happy for a chance to go back to the set, if not because he got to act, but because he got to shoot hoops with the other boys.
"There was a basketball hoop for the kids to play," Rush said. "We"d shoot a scene, then we'd run, play for a little bit, then get right back after our break. Sometimes Andy and the guys would break into, well, we called it hootenanny at the time, but they'd sing and play guitars. Then someone would say it's time to get back to work and everyone would get back to work." Little Ricky actor Keith Thibodeaux agreed it was a good time. He said unlike I Love Lucy, being on The Andy Griffith Show was carefree.
"The Andy Griffith Show was a wonderful experience," Thibodeaux said. "The set was more laid back… [the actors] were basically like they were on the show. Andy would play checkers with the make-up man…. He'd often strum his guitar with the cast in the back. It was just a good, down-home set."
"I'm sure you've heard it a hundred times… [being on The Andy Griffith Show] was work. There was hard work to be done, but son of a gun, everyone just enjoyed their time there, enjoyed working with one another," Rush said, adding, "Ron was just such a treat to work with."