3 forgotten starring roles Ron Howard had been the Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days

Did you ever see him in a Disney movie, a cop sitcom and a twisty mystery?

Images: The Everett Collection

Ron Howard finished his time on The Andy Griffith Show not long after he entered his teenage years. When American Graffiti hit theaters in 1973, the young star was on the verge of turning 20. That nostalgic masterpiece led to his lead role on the similarly retro-minded Happy Days, which premiered one year later.

Everyone knows Howard as both Opie and Richie, but his teenage years in between go overlooked. In that span, he made memorable appearances on M*A*S*H (playing a Marine with appendicitis in "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet") and Land of the Giants (as giant boy-genius Jodar in "Genius at Work" — not to be confused with his 1965 role as "Genius" in Village of the Giants). He popped in to visit his brother Clint Howard on Gentle Ben a couple of times.

But Howard also landed a few lead roles in that formative gap, too. As MeTV transitions from The Month of Mayberry to the premiere of Happy Days, let's take a look!

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1. The Wild Country

At just 16 years old, Howard (still billed as "Ronny") got his first chance to play a budding action hero of sorts from Walt Disney. The House of Mouse based this 1970 film about Western pioneers on a bestselling 1950 memoir by Ralph Moody titled Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers. Howard, in this case, is the stand-in for Moody, renamed "Virgil Tanner" in this drama about water rights on the Wyoming frontier. Ever protective of his family (Which includes Vera Miles of Psycho as his mother) Virgil attempts to unplug a dam and ends up saving the Tanner clan through violence. Alas, this overlooked Disney film is not yet available on Disney Plus.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. The Smith Family

Yes, Howard starred in a sitcom between his time in Mayberry and Milwaukee — and a rather fascinating one, at that. For starters, the esteemed Henry Fonda portrayed the head of The Smith Family, which should give you some clue that this was not a straight comedy. Hard to imagine the Oscar-winning star of The Grapes of Wrath and On Golden Pond doing slapstick. This ABC series fused drama and comedy, two years before M*A*S*H would popularize and perfect the blend. Fonda's character was a detective and devoted dad, and the show would bound between cop procedural and lighthearted, heartwarming family scenarios. Fun fact: Erin Moran, Howard's future sister on Happy Days, appeared in two episodes.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Happy Mother's Day, Love George

Opie in a psychological slasher flick? Say it ain't so! Happy Mother's Day, Love George, sometimes titled Run, Stranger, Run, is one of many solid little suspense-horror films that were so prevalent in the early 1970s. The pedigree here was great. Cloris Leachman and Patricia Neal starred, as did former teen idol Bobby Darin. Howard was the central character, however, a young drifter who comes into a small town looking for answers about his upbringing. With knives, secrets and shocking twists, it bridges the gap between Hitchcock and Stephen King. It also happens to be the only feature film directed by Darren McGavin of Kolchak: The Night Stalker and A Christmas Story!

Image: Columbia Pictures

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LucyImHome1951 4 days ago
CBS just said that they are putting The Smith Family on DVD. Anyone gonna buy it?
Art1957 5 days ago
Anyone who cares to can watch "Run Stranger, Run (1973) aka: Happy Mother's Day, Love George" on YouTube
horsedancer 6 days ago
Another cool fact is that his brother was in the Andy Griffith Show, you can spot him eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a few episodes. I just can't remember his name in the show
SteveBesman 7 days ago
Ron also guest starred in an episode of “The Fugitive” and “ I Spy .


Newyorkcitygal 8 days ago
Thank you for all the info on Ron Howard. Very interesting to learn.
KellySapp 9 days ago
Don’t forget the John Wayne movie Howard was in. Think it was called “The Shootist.” Great movie! Now he’s a big time director with my favorite movie being “Apollo 13!!”
Wiseguy KellySapp 9 days ago
They didn't forget. That movie was after Happy Days started. The article concerned appearances between The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days. Does anybody here actually read (and comprehend) the titles of articles?
jimenumbers Wiseguy 6 days ago
thanks big brother
JustGeri 9 days ago
I think this article focused specifically on the years btw The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days that RH was star or featured. His role on on M*A*S*H was mentioned. The Music Man was before AG ended.
Annamx 9 days ago
He also played on Bonanza and an episode of Mash.
Storyweaver 9 days ago
He was also on one of my favorite episodes of Gunsmoke where while Matt is taking a fugitive in to be hanged he comes across an Indian woman and her stepson (Howard) who are being chased by Comanches, Bonanza--some kid dies during a club hazing, Big Valley--Nick is staying with a woman and her illegitimate son when he thinks he has rabies and Lassie (which I didn't see) but Howard related on talk shows how the director told him to stop upstaging the dog.
RBL 9 days ago
Don't forget about Bitter Harvest from 1981
lady_rocker 9 days ago
Ron Howard also appeared in "Gunsmoke" Charlie Noon (TV Episode 1969)
The episode won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing.
DeniseKennedy 9 days ago
Don’t forget his two appearances on “Twilight Zone”!!
Wiseguy DeniseKennedy 9 days ago
I only recall Ron Howard being on the Twilight Zone once...before Andy Griffith Show. The article was about what he did BETWEEN Andy Griffith and Happy Days.
StanGarelik 9 days ago
He also had a memorable part as Seth, a family friend, who dies of leukemia on The Waltons episode “The Gift”.
EricFuller 9 days ago
Actually Ron appeared on episodes of I Spy and The FBI.
Dayna 9 days ago
The picture is Henry Fond! Where are you all getting Peter Fonda?
jvsmith107 9 days ago
I remember another movie he was in called "Eat My Dust."
Jon jvsmith107 9 days ago
He acted in that film to get his start in directing his own movies.
MichaelHollander 9 days ago
Befor Andy Ronny appeared in a movie with Anthony Quinn called "Rabbit Run"...
And before that, Ron was in a little-known film called The Music Man.
AgingDisgracefully 9 days ago
Opening title sequence for The Smith Family...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnLKJn_QVHg
Ronnie's TV sister is Darleen Carr, later Karl Malden's TV daughter on the more-remembered Streets of SF.
Who is the mama? Janet Blair? Can't quite place her.
Cyn_Finnegan lucirush 9 days ago
Janet was an actress and big band singer. Here's her Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Blair
HopeChinWah lucirush 9 days ago
I thought that the Mama was Patricia Blair. I could be wrong.
ARDE24 9 days ago
Someone needs to do better homework before they write up summaries like the one for this interesting article. As noted by other readers, it was Henry Fonda not his son Peter who starred in The Smith Family, a much more conservative person and very appropriate for this type of program, and secondly, when the author mentions Mr. Fonda's reputation for dramatic roles, s/he never saw the movie "Yours, Mine and Ours" where he played a great comedic role alongside Lucille Ball.
Bjay29 ARDE24 9 days ago
I. It iced the same thing. Someone was in a hurry.
Bjay29 ARDE24 9 days ago
Seems like everyone noticed the incorrect Fonda listed as the star in the Smith Family. LOL
Jon ARDE24 9 days ago
Apparently someone from the website has corrected the text here.
DoubleNaughtSpy ARDE24 8 days ago
Henry Fonda? Conservative? REALLY?

I guess that's why he guest-hosted a retrospective of "All in the Family" for CBS and guest-starred in an episode of "Maude" in which uber-liberal Bea Arthur personally urged him to run for POTUS.
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