Little Ronny Howard was more comfortable on a movie set than Johnny Cash
The child star and country music legend began their acting careers around the same time.
In 1956, the world took notice of a new country artist on the scene, Johnny Cash. The future legend released his breakout hit "I Walk the Line" which topped the country charts and sold millions of copies worldwide. Naturally, performances on The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand soon followed.
But singing wasn’t the only thing Cash did onscreen, even early in his career. He won his first acting role in the 1959 Wagon Train episode “The C.L. Harding Story” before making his big-screen debut in the 1961 film Five Minutes to Live.
Cash plays Johnny Cabot, a hired hoodlum who takes the wife of a bank employee hostage to secure a ransom. Cay Forester, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay, plays the terrified wife, Nancy Wilson.
Things soon go array and Cabot gets more and more angry. The tension builds to a breaking point when Nancy’s young son, Bobby, played by Ron Howard, comes home from school. Cabot grabs Bobby and holds him at gunpoint.
It’s a very intense scene and Cash gives the perfect crazed performance as the desperate armed criminal. According to Ron Howard, who at that point had already started playing his beloved role as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, not all of Johnny Cash’s nervous energy was acting.
The Los Angeles Times highlighted a few tidbits from Ron and brother Clint Howard’s new book, The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family. Ron recalls his experience making Five Minutes to Live and working with Johnny Cash. He reveals that Cash was so nervous, he was sweating profusely. Because Cash had to grab Howard and pick him up, little Ronny could feel how sweaty the country legend was. After a few takes, both were soaking wet! As Howard puts it in the book, “I recognized, on some level, that I was more comfortable on a soundstage than Johnny Cash was.”
Though it might seem strange to hear, that assessment actually makes sense. Johnny Cash was a newly famous country singer who was just starting to get acting roles while Ron Howard had grown up on the movie sets his actor father, Rance, had worked on. Not to mention the fact that Ron had not only started as Opie he but also acted in over a dozen other shows like The Twilight Zone and Dennis the Menace by 1961. He was practically a veteran by the time he worked with Johnny Cash!