The Boys is an account of Ron and Clint Howard’s youth and early adult years in Hollywood was a delightful read. I greatly anticipated the arrival of this book, though I was not sure what to expect. Many of these memoirs are disappointing and leave you wishing you had not disturbed your own memories. Not so with this book.
The format is they trade off, detailing a shared or related event, from each experience and pout of view. The book could easily be subtitled: Movies, Marijuana and Masterbation.
Of course, the book focuses on Ron’s years in The Andy Griffith Show, American Graffiti and Happy Days. He talks at length about his guiding passion to direct films, from making 8mm films as a youth to striking a deal with King of the B Films, Roger Corman, to direct Grand Theft Auto.
For Clint, who had success with Gentle Ben and other childhood roles, life took some difficult turns through substance abuse and addiction, while his acting career petered out.
The book is the story of their lives as young actors, who struggled to emerge from successful child star to struggling adult actors, although Ron benefited from parlaying his American Graffiti role into Happy Days, a stroke of the stars aligning for him.
The real story is their loving childhood and supportive parents. Their father, character actor Rance Howard, is more responsible than anyone for not only helping their careers, but putting his career second to his sons’ careers. Not only did he act as their manager, he was their dialogue coach and helped prep them for roles. It might sound like their parents were controlling and lived off the youngsters’ earnings. Not the case. All stage parents should be like Rance and Jean Howard.
The Howard boys are quite open about the ups and downs of fame, and the comfort of also being afforded semi-normal lives as kids.
They also delve into what it was like for their parents, both actors, but more importantly, their important roles as parents. There was the career struggles of the father, and the emotional and physical health challenges of their mother. Theirs’s was a normal relationship in many respects, even in Hollywood. The boys describe the closeness and devotion of their parents to each other, not perfect, but normal.
Was their life similar to the fictional Mayberry? Interesting question since all three Howard boys acted on the show and it played such a huge part of their lives. Ron and Clint both credit their parents for structuring a live for the young actors that was as normal as possible. You do not hear that very often from former child actors. This was the 1960s and American culture and values were undergoing great change. Ron and Clint were not immune from its shadow. Ron stayed clear of drinking and drugs, but Clint would fall into it. Ron was most concerned with being drafted and sent to Vietnam.
Ron details the long road to directing, the great passion in his life, outside of his family. After The Andy Griffith Show, his acting career slowed down. Without Happy Days, his career might have been different, at least the opportunities that led to his directing career would have fallen on the different path. He was still destined to be a director and somehow it would have happened. The many advantages of being Opie Taylor also had thorny disadvantages.
Clint obviously had the hardest transition from child actor to adulthood. The jobs went dry for awhile and he was caught in a self-destructive cycle. He struggled to find his way and he could have become another Hollywood casualty. He has over 200 credits on imdb.com, not bad for a character actor. Brother Ron hires him for parts in his films and he is usually great comic relief. Two of his best roles were the 1971 episode of Night Gallery where he is the boy who predicts the end of the world. It is a mesmerizing story and Clint portrays it in a very cool and unemotional manner. The other great role was in EDtv as the harried television director who complains about the hair-plugs that are no good.
Here is a video of the Howards promoting this book with Seth Meyers.