Ron Howard Was Mentored by This Legendary Actor When He Dreamed of Becoming a Director: 'That Moment Was Huge'

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard didn’t just go seamlessly from child actor to young adult actor to director. Howard, according to a biographer, gravitated toward the director’s chair even from his Andy Griffith Show days.

But it was in great part the support from one of film’s most notable actors that encouraged Howard to go for his dream.

Howard appeared in ‘The Smith Family’ television series with Henry Fonda

In 1971, Howard then age 16 was hired to play the teenage son in the TV comedy-drama The Smith Family. The program focused on an L.A. detective and his home life and that detective was played by actor Henry Fonda.

Fonda was well-known for his roles in 12 Angry Men, Mister Roberts, and Midway earned a Best Actor Oscar for his final role in the 1981 film On Golden Pond which he starred in with Katharine Hepburn and his daughter Jane Fonda.

In her biography, Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon…and Beyond, author Beverly Gray writes of the series and the fateful role it played in Howard’s eventual decision to pursue directing.

“The series, which debuted in January 1971, was a clumsy attempt to squeeze the social traumas of the day into an old-fashioned sitcom format a la Father Knows Best. Ron refers to this as a ‘terrible show’ but a ‘great life experience’ because of the actor who played his father,” Gray wrote. “Henry Fonda, one of the top movie stars of his generation, was a quiet, thoroughly professional man who largely kept to himself on the set.”

It’s true that Fonda was known for his reserved demeanor but it would be to Howard’s advantage that Fonda had worked with Ron’s father Rance. The elder Howard was a solid character actor in his own right and was in the cast with Fonda of 1955’s Mister Roberts.

“[Fonda] had known Rance since Mister Roberts, and he soon became an important mentor to Rance’s eager young son,” Gray continued.

The actor who encouraged Howard to pursue directing

Howard’s soon-to-be published memoir written with his brother

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