Most of us have heard Ron Howard's laugh. Think back to just about any episode of Happy Days when the Fonz says something embarrassing to Howard's character, teenage Richie Cunningham, who shuffles his feet and laughs with a breathy, nervous naivete. Or recall the old black-and-white episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, when Howard played Sheriff Andy Taylor's enthusiastic son Opie, throwing his auburn head back in laughter at the fumbling Don Knotts.
Ron Howard's laugh is familiar; it's easy, uninhibited, and even a little bit self-effacing; it makes us laugh right along with him.
Today, as an Oscar-winning director and co-chairman of Imagine Entertainment, Howard directs movies that stick in the public's imagination just as much as his infectious smile. He credits his directing approach, and much of the joy he still finds in filmmaking, to his early days as a young actor on The Andy Griffith Show.
"That was a very unique environment," Howard says. "It was incredibly productive, but it was also fun. And Andy Griffith, to be honest, set a tremendous example without ever lecturing or offering a word of advice. Basically, he demonstrated a creative integrity about the work. ... It did not mean that people had to wander around with a furrowed brow, chain smoking and kicking furniture, in order to bring something that was really personal and creatively exciting to the public."
Howard worked on the set of The Andy Griffith Show from the age of 6 to 14. His experiences solidified into a foundation for his directing today. "That's the kind of environment that I try to create, and it's the way I work," he says. "So I'm not a person that flourishes in an environment of conflict. I've learned to cope with hot situations, but it's not something that. I find stimulating."
A Sense of Fairness
In Hollywood, conflict would seem par for the course. It's not known as the land of nice guys. It's known as the land of egos. The land of divas. And sometimes, the land of money first and people last. But Howard has maintained a reputation for being one of the nicest guys in the business.
"He's wise," Happy Days co-star and longtime friend Henry Winkler has said. "He was wise when I first met him. I think he's an old soul. There is this wonderful sense of fairness in Ron."
People who work with Howard notice that fairness. And it's intentional. "As a director, I try to create an environment where people feel they can creatively flourish, where they can excel, and that creates a lot of confidence and an ongoing dialogue and a kind of creative excitement that I can, as the director, really work with and help shape and focus," he says. "But nobody's operating out of fear or anxiety as much as they are a kind of creative excitement and a belief that, in a business that often throws up roadblocks, as many of those as possible are going to be cleared away."
Howard says he strives to treat people with respect. This approach allows him the freedom to put his foot down from time to time without causing uproar. "People know that I'm a good listener and that I'm eager to include people's creative ideas when I believe they're in harmony with the needs of the project. So knowing all of that, I find that people are willing to accept a no from me more readily because they also understand that I'm very eager to say yes and include their ideas."
That's right; the nice guy says no. His filmography illustrates his ability to bring real human drama, even darkness, to life on screen. His portfolio, which includes some of the most popular films of the past 25 years, is a mix of comedy, drama and suspense. He won an Academy Award for Best Director for A Beautiful Mind, a drama starring Russell Crowe; Emmys for his role as producer on the sitcom Arrested Development and the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon; and a Golden Globe for his acting on Happy Days in 1974. …