One of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Icon Ron Howard’s Earliest Roles Was on a Show with Ronald Reagan

by Suzanne Halliburton
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This is a pretty cool start to your career. One of the first shows on the Ron Howard acting resume was with future president Ronald Reagan.

The show, as Ron Howard recalled, was Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley, presented by General Electric Theater. Back in the mid-1980s, as Howard was evolving from Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham into a director of serious movies, he recalled that initial role. Playing Barnaby, even if it was uncredited, helped his career immensely. The show was televised just before Christmas in 1959.

“Ronald Reagan was the host,” Ron Howard told the Washington Post in 1985. “I had no billing in the show. And at the end he just kind of ad-libbed this thing about ‘and our special appreciation to little Ronny Howard.’ I have a kinescope of that, and it’s pretty great. It goes over pretty well at parties these days.”

A kinescope is a fancy word for film recording. You can imagine how that would play at a Ron Howard function these days, seeing himself as a five-year-old boy, with Ronald Reagan calling out your name. In the late 1950s, Reagan still was an actor, a few years before he jumped into politics. In 1954, Reagan started hosting General Electric Theater, which was a weekly TV show.

As part of the contract, he’d also travel to various GE sites, giving motivational speeches to the employees. Reagan still was a Democrat when he worked as a GE host. He became a Republican in 1962 and worked with the Barry Goldwater campaign two years later. Reagan became governor of California in 1967.

Producer for Andy Griffith Show Wanted Ron Howard After Seeing Reagan Shout Out

Meanwhile, Ron Howard used his uncredited role as Barnaby to land a part as Opie in The Andy Griffith Show.

In an interview with Archive of American Television in 2006, Ron Howard said a producer for The Andy Griffith Show heard Reagan’s shout out. So he called Howard’s agent about the role of Opie, telling the agent “we need a son.”

He played Andy’s son Opie until 1968. His role in the movie American Graffiti in 1973 led him to Richie Cunningham in 1974. Actually, George Lucas, who directed American Graffiti saw Howard in the pilot for Happy Days and cast him for the movie. The pilot sat in the network dust bins for awhile, but ABC gave it a go after seeing Howard in the movie.

Ron Howard seemed destined for a career in TV and movies, whether it was in front of or behind the cameras. He was born in Oklahoma. His parents, Rance and Jean, met at Oklahoma University. They were drama students there. Dennis Weaver, who was Chester on Gunsmoke and starred in McCloud, introduced Rance and Jean to each other. By the time they moved to California, Howard said they referred to themselves as “sophisticated hicks.”

Together with his brother Clint, Ron Howard wrote a book called The Boys. The book comes out next month. Howard touted the memoir this week on his Twitter account.

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