Ron Howard Described the Hardest Working Star of Classic Hollywood

by Allison Hambrick

Actor and director Ron Howard opened up about working with classic Hollywood actors such as John Wayne and Bette Davis. While the Duke was intimidating and had exacting standards, he had a different take on who had the greatest work ethic.

“John Wayne used a phrase, which he later attributed to John Ford, for scenes that were going to be difficult: “This is a job of work,” he’d say,” explained Howard. “If there was a common thread with these folks – Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford – it was the work ethic. It was still driving them. To cheat the project was an insult. To cheat the audience was damnable. I directed Bette Davis, too – she was the toughest of them all.”

Over the course of his incredible career, Howard has worked with a number of massive stars. Ranging from Wayne to modern-day icons like Tom Hanks, he has shared either a screen or a credit with some of the most renowned actors of several generations. It is for that reason his words about Davis are so poignant.

Howard met Wayne on the set of The Shootist in 1976. His first interaction with the Duke was less than pleasant–he was the only one who never treated Howard any different because of his success on television.

How Ron Howard Met John Wayne

When Howard was only 22, he starred alongside Wayne in what was ultimately his last film role. The young actor was understandably nervous to share the screen with a legend. He once explained: “I went into The Shootist expecting not to have a great time. Wayne was notorious for not getting along with young actors.”

Howard went to meet Wayne for the first time at the latter’s hotel room. Upon his arrival, the Duke was playing chess. The older actor was not even wearing his hairpiece at the time. Wayne didn’t initially look up or acknowledge Howard’s arrival in the room. The only thing that got his attention was when another person in the room showed him a TV Guide cover featuring Howard and costar Henry Winkler. Instead of being impressed, Wayne sarcastically called Howard “a big shot.” Ultimately, Wayne came around because he respected the work ethic required to star on television for so many years.

Howard explained: “But it turned out my television background was something he really related to because those Westerns were sort of his version of being a television actor. He felt like with that kind of background, a person would know how to get it done.”

Additionally, Howard walked away from the experience with a positive impression of the Duke.

“I’ll never forget the fact that he never, ever made me feel like a kid,” Howard said. “He treated me like a pro… one pro working with another.”