This is what caused Ron Howard to cry real tears shooting ''Opie the Birdman''
"What comedy would do an episode that poignant?"
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Ron Howard said that he has "vivid memories" of doing The Andy Griffith Show episode "Opie the Birdman," and not just because it's one of the show's most famous episodes. The premiere episode of the show's fourth season, "Opie the Birdman" asked the young actor - then just 9 years old - to cry on command and navigate some pretty heavy territory as the character of Opie learns a hard lesson about life and death when he acidentally kills a mother bird.
In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Howard said at the time he was so excited at how many scenes he got to do that he didn't even realize how different "Opie the Birdman" really was from other Mayberry fare. Howard said, "But later, you realize there are almost no jokes in that episode. Unless it’s the season ending or the end of the series … what comedy at the height of their run would do an episode that was that poignant, from start to finish? There are a couple of chuckles in that episode, but not broad. It’s not reaching for jokes at all."
The Andy Griffith Show didn't have to reach for jokes, because caring about the characters was at the heart of the show's comedy. "Opie the Birdman" is all the proof you need of that, but when Howard was preparing for the scene, he wasn't thinking about Opie Taylor at all. Instead, he was thinking about his own pet dog that he'd once lost. Howard said, "I have vivid memories of ‘Opie the Birdman’ because I’d had a dog named Gulliver who had been hit by a car and in sort of getting to the emotional place of doing those scenes, my dad reminded me of Gulliver. And how I felt." Then with a laugh, the actor added about how his actor dad Rance Howard would coach him: "He was giving me the method then."
In the interview, Howard confirmed that he was actually crying real tears during the scene, saying of that particular episode: "Those emotional scenes came from a personal, very real place for me. I wasn’t faking stuff.” Anyone who wept along with little Opie over the years would probably agree: We all felt the difference.