Ron Howard had to prove his directing chops to actress Bette Davis

When your leading actress gets tough, the tough stay calm...right?

AP Photo / Carlos Rene Perez

We all recognize Ron Howard as Opie Taylor, our favorite spunky son of Sheriff Andy Taylor, but later in his career, Howard decided to step behind the camera. Now a well-known director with a list of hit movies to his name, it would be crazy not to want to work with Mayberry's favorite kid in this day and age.

However, Howard had to prove that he had what it took to direct a film — just like anyone else getting started in the industry. During an interview at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, he revealed that there was one particular instance that made this very clear.

In 1980, Howard released a television movie called Skyward starring Bette Davis and Suzy Gilstrap. It tells the story of how Julie Ward, a paraplegic young woman with dreams of flying a plane, teams up with an aging flight instructor (Davis) to learn the ropes of being a pilot. The movie was a bit of a Happy Days affair, as Anson "Potsie" Williams was credited with the story and Marion Ross joined the cast. (Lisa Whelchel, host of MeTV's Collector's Call, also had a role!)

Prior to filming, Howard reached out to Davis and learned that she was not as excited to film with him as he was with her.

"[Davis] loved the script, but... she didn't much like that there was this 25-year-old from a sitcom that was directing her," he said. "I was talking to her on the phone and I said, 'Well, Ms. Davis, I'll protect you as the director and make sure you're prepared and that your performance will not suffer', and she said, 'I disagree, Mr. Howard, but I don't think there's much I can do. Unfortunately, I like the script and I want to do the movie.'"

Everett CollectionBette Davis in Skyward, 1980.

Howard tried to make a more personal connection, insisting that Davis call him "Ron." Apparently, Davis wasn't prepared to be on a first-name basis just yet.

"'No,' [she said]," Howard recalled. "'I will call you Mr. Howard until I decide whether I like you or not!' and she hung up!"

The first day of filming led to more of the same from Davis. While in rehearsal, she made plenty of jokes about Howard's youth, even exclaiming that she was shocked to see a "child walking towards her!" Throughout the day, Howard maintained a cool demeanor, but inside was so nervous he needed Tums to calm his stomach.

During a pivotal moment in a scene, he gave a direction that Davis wasn't completely sold on. Always the professional, she took the note and, much to Howard's surprise, said, "You're right, that works much better. Let's shoot."

The atmosphere on set changed as soon as the cameras were rolling and a solid scene was filmed. With the first day wrapped successfully, Howard managed to catch Davis one more time before the end of the day.

"I said, 'Well, Ms. Davis, great first day. I'll see you tomorrow.'" Howard said. "She stubbed out her Camel cigarette and said, 'Okay, Ron, see you tomorrow!' and gave me a swift pat on the [buttocks]!"

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Wufferduck 2 months ago
So the late Miss Davis sexually harassed Mr. Howard on the butt. Lol.
RichLorn 2 months ago
Davis has a long legacy of being a star well liked by the public. In my book, she is and has always been a bitch. Her only redeeming quality was (supposedly) being instrumental in forming the Hollywood Canteen for WW2 servicemen.
KevinButler 2 months ago
I remember this TV movie drama"Skyward"..where Ms.Davis and Mr.Hessman taught a disabled young lady..how to fly a plane..which she did..with flying colors(Pardon the pun).
MarkSpeck 2 months ago
Bette Davis loved The FBI and wanted to appear on it. She wrote to Quinn Martin, who was excited at the possibility of having this huge star on the show, but, alas, it wasn't meant to be...the real-life FBI vetted all stars and top-line guest stars to make sure that there was nothing that would embarrass the Bureau, and Davis got turned down flat. Seems she was a suspect in the 1938 murder of her then-husband, and while the LAPD cleared her of all charges, Hoover and his boys weren't satisfied, so it was a no-go.

And they had a great episode for her to appear in..."The Courier", in which she would have played a philanthropist using her work with children as a cover for espionage. It was filmed and aired in the series' second season, in 1967, with Ruth Roman in the role Bette would have had. One of the other main guests was a very young Gene Hackman...can you imagine Bette Davis and Gene Hackman as co-villains? That would have been something to see!
artisteonfire 2 months ago
Always loved this story/remembrance. Both, true professionals. I've seen articles/interviews where Bette would have-her-say, but when/if you show her a better way, she will go-it.
327053 2 months ago
I am scared of Baby Jane 😳
Dave62 327053 2 months ago
Baby Jane is scare of. You
tootsieg 327053 2 months ago
So am I. I cannot watch the movie.
Big3Fan 327053 2 months ago
I am scared of Bette Davis.
kkvegas 327053 2 months ago
"Oh Blanche, did ya know we have rats in the cellar?"
texasluva 3 months ago
What a great story between Mr. Howard er Ron and Bette Davis. I knew she was one woman hard to please and if not Heaven help you. Things really turned out well for Ron Howard-Splash-Cocoon-Backdraft-Apollo 13-Ransom-A Beautiful Mind-Cinderella Man-Frost/Nixon-Rush-The Paper-Parenthood and many more--
LoveMETV22 3 months ago
Thank you MeTV for the " 2014 Tribeca Film Festival " video link in the story.
There are some good podcast interviews that Marion Ross and Anson Williams did on the movie
( On Youtube ) that expand beyond the interview Ron Howard did.
LoveMETV22 3 months ago
Love Kim Carnes voice - " Bette Davis Eyes " :
OldTVfanatic LoveMETV22 3 months ago
Bette Davis herself was a huge fan of this song.
LoveMETV22 OldTVfanatic 2 months ago
Yes, She wrote a letter to Carnes as well as the song’s writers Donna Weiss and Jackie Shannon thanking them. Davis said “Bette Davis Eyes” made her seem cool to her grandchildren. Although her grandchildren were unimpressed with her classic films.
musicman37 LoveMETV22 2 months ago
I am a HUGE Kim Carnes fan - unfortunately this is the song she'll be remembered most for; it wasn't even the best song she did, but it's the one which captured the public's imagination. She did six other albums on EMI which had a lot of beautifully written, well performed songs on them, but only has one platinum album and one platinum single to show for them.
Happy Days Tough TV TRIVIA Question About MOOSE BARRY GREENBERG on Happy Days:
Moose played by Barry Greenberg on Happy Days for
3 episodes only for season one ONLY was still seen on Happy Days ALL THROUGH SEASON 2 of Happy Days even though Moose appeared on Happy Days
For season one ONLY?
How is this possible?
Pacificsun 3 months ago
This is a repeat.
But always enjoyable!
MrsPhilHarris 3 months ago
Where does the time go? I remember this story but I thought it was sometime in 2022. 😆
LoveMETV22 3 months ago
Excellent story MeTV even if it was originally from 2019. Wow, can only imagine how nervous
Ron Howard must have been. Certainly a momentous ice- breaker he had with Bette Davis. I'm sure he remembers it to this day.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 3 months ago
They even imported our comments from 33 months ago! LOL!
Or maybe it's dejavu!
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 3 months ago
The comments were likely there. They (MeTV) when they use old stories ,they don't usually delete the old comments (I'm sure they could). The old comments are interesting to read ( sometimes).
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 3 months ago
33 months is a LONG, long time ago. Sometimes I have to reread it to think, did I really say that!
daDoctah 36 months ago
Talk about stressful! No wonder his hair fell out.
Pacificsun 36 months ago
I guess that's one way to earn a "compliment" if someone calls you by your first name. And I "get it" that Ms. Davis was testing Howard's confidence. So he wouldn't flake in the middle of his responsibility as a director. But I wonder if she was also able to teach him anything too? That might've made for a better (inspiring) story about BD's character (and her experience)!
Runeshaper 36 months ago
That's a great story! The last paragraph had me laughing. LOL I can understand that being in front of the camera must be nerve-racking, but being behind the scenes directing Bette Davis must be even more so. I'm glad to hear that they seemed to get along after all of this.
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