Rance Howard won baby Ron Howard his debut movie role by jumping off a balcony
Here's a father who would do anything to see his son succeed. It took a tomahawk to get baby Ron to cry on cue.
When an overeager Barney Fife tries to write a ticket to an illegally parked car, Rance Howard plays the chauffeur who informs the deputy that the car belongs to the governor.
"The governor?" Barney asks, seeming to change his mind about writing the ticket, but then his desire to impress a couple of Mayberry onlookers inspires him to act tough instead. He writes the ticket and hands it to the chauffeur, "Compliments of Barney Fife!"
All that was required from Rance Howard during this scene was to sincerely smile, nod at the deputy, and do whatever Barney said. Yet his stone-faced grin is distractingly funny, which was a dependable quality in his performances and why Rance, father of The Andy Griffith Show's young star Ron Howard, had long gotten work as a veteran character actor.
It never bothered Rance one bit that his young son managed to become a bigger star than he did. In a 2014 interview published in The Jackson Sun, Ronny's real dad is quoted saying, "It didn't bother my ego at all; I was his father teaching him what I knew about acting. He quickly accepted it, learned from it, and enjoyed it. Ron and I always had a good relationship."
During this interview, Rance also told The Jackson Sun a rarely told story about little Ronny Howard's very first time in a film production — at only 18 months old.
It happened in 1956 when Rance and his wife Jean both got parts in a movie about Davy Crockett's daughter called Frontier Woman.
"We wanted to somehow get Ron into the picture, too," Rance said. "He was only 18 months old, but we thought it would be wonderful for our parents to see their grandson in a movie with us."
However, when Rance asked the director if he liked the idea, the director rejected little Ronny.
"He said he couldn't be bothered," Rance explained.
Funny enough, fate intervened when the director needed Rance to do a stunt where his character gets shot and has to fall off the balcony. Just like following Deputy Fife's orders, Rance did the scene as the director asked, not thinking anything of it.
However, simply being a reliable actor onset got Rance and Jean exactly what they hoped for.
"[The director] was so pleased he told me to bring Ron the next day and would work him into the movie," Rance said.
The way Ronny got worked into his very first on-screen appearance is pretty hilarious for parents of any kid who goes through an obsessive cowboy phase.
The director pieced together a scene where a politician was giving an address before a crowd and a crying baby keeps distracting him from delivering his talking points.
Ron would be the crying baby. All the director needed to know to greenlight the scene was, could Rance's 18-month-old son cry on cue?
Rance thought hard and remembered that Ron had become particularly fascinated in the prop tomahawks being used in the film. Any time they tried to take the tomahawk away from him, he bawled uncontrollably.
So right before shooting began, Jean held Ron and gave him the toy tomahawk, and when the time came for the camera to pivot to show Ron, the tomahawk was suddenly snatched away.
"Ron begins to howl," Rance remembered. "The politician stops, comes over to Jean and says, 'You'd better take that baby home, lady. I think he's sick.'"
You can tell just reading the story that Rance was incredibly proud of his boy for nailing his very first scene. "And that was Ron’s introduction to movie making!" Rance declared.
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My good friend Randy, who was with me on set that day, couldn't believe my luck. "Don't you know who that is?" (I should say that Randy was and continues to be a human IMdb. He and I worked on several films and he knew by sight most of the talent involved, and knew their history, etc.) After he clued me in about Rance all I could say was that I was happy that I didn't know at the time- I probably would have gone 'fan-boy' and done something wrong. LOL!
As it was I did my scene with no hiccups and, not unlike Rance in the story above, was actually asked to come to a different shot (due to the camera angles the first scene literally reduced me to a hand model as I stood behind a saloon bar and served Rance and his companion coffee). The next set up was me as a cook in the doorway of the kitchen behind Michael Madsen and his co-star.