Ron Howard explained how Christmas inspired his whole family to act

The Howard family tree should be shaped like a Christmas tree.

Scrooged / Paramount

Christmas is a time for families coming together, and The Andy Griffith Show memorably honored that tradition with "The Christmas Story."

That episode finds Sheriff Andy throwing a holiday party at the jail after he's been asked by Mayberry's version of Scrooge to arrest a moonshiner. Andy doesn't want to be the one who keeps the moonshiner away from his family during Christmas, so he gathers the man's whole family at the jail. The jolly spirit conjured there, with the help of Aunt Bee and Ellie, makes even the Scrooge character misty-eyed.

Growing up on the set of The Andy Griffith Show, Ron Howard became a star at such a young age because both his parents were actors. He was following in their footsteps, and this holiday season, we wanted to connect the dots to help you understand how central Christmas was to the Howard family ascendance to multi-generational Hollywood fame.

Howard told Tulsa World that his dad Rance Howard knew he wanted to be an actor by the age of 12. He realized it was his destiny after doing what? Acting in a Christmas play.

Thanks to that one fateful Christmas, Rance went to college where he studied acting from a talented teacher, Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke). Ron's mother, Jean Speegle, attended the same college as an acting student, where she stood out for her talents too, and there they fell in love.

"That experience changed everything, and they became the first in their families to be entertainers, and it led to our families pursuing it ever since," Howard said.

Once Rance Howard and Jean Speegle wed, Rance began acting, becoming a popular character actor and appearing in more than 140 roles. Jean decided to wait until her kids were raised before she pursued acting, putting her dreams on hold. She supported both her sons as they too became talented actors, Clint in a variety of character roles like his dad, and Ron as a lead on The Andy Griffith Show, then Happy Days.

However, soon the Eighties arrived and it was finally Jean Speegle Howard's turn to shine. By then, Ron was directing, and he cast her in bit roles in his films Cocoon and Gung Ho. Then Ron's Happy Days pal Henry Winkler also welcomed her back, casting Jean in his TV movie starring Dolly Parton, A Smoky Mountain Christmas.

Everett CollectionJean Speegle Howard in 1996

But Christmas became an even more important part of her comeback when she got cast as Mrs. Claus in the cult classic Christmas movie Scrooged.

The opening sequence of Scrooged shows Bill Murray's sleazy character debuting a trailer for a fake action movie starring Lee Majors. It shows Majors rescuing Santa Claus from the North Pole, which is under fire, and one of the most unexpected moments comes when Mrs. Claus opens a closet in Santa's workshop to show Santa’s got an arsenal of guns that would shock even Michael Bay.

Did you know that’s Opie's mom playing Mrs. Claus in this spoofy scene?

Ron said her higher profile from these movie roles like Scrooged helped her become a go-to character actor on sitcoms in the Nineties, including The Wonder Years and Roseanne. He said his father wasn't surprised when Jean started getting offered parts even after having such a late start, because Rance always told his sons their mother was the most talented actor at their university. It's part of why he fell for her.

"She became the new 'little old lady' in the sitcom world, working with a little bit of everybody and becoming very popular," Ron said. "And my dad just said: 'I told you boys.'"

So to recap: Rance became an actor after doing a Christmas play, Ron and Clint became actors because that’s what their dad did, and their mom made her comeback as Mrs. Claus in one of the Eighties' most memorable Christmas movies. You could say the spirit of Christmas inspired the whole family's fame — if you're in a holly, jolly mood.

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43 months ago
"Christmas?" I thought his original family name was Horowitz.
KevinButler 43 months ago
Thanks for sharing this Christmas memory of The Howard Family.
jaelinsmith40652 43 months ago
Ron Howard really was an amazing actor as I seen him on The Andy Griffith show and Happy Days.
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