Before he was Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, Ron Howard was almost Barnaby. Yes! That Barnaby. Don’t worry, I had to look it up too.
Barnaby was a wildly popular comic strip in the 1940s. It followed a 5-year-old boy and his guardian angel Mr. O’Malley. It inspired many major comics that followed it such as Peanuts and Family Circus, according to MeTV. In 1959, Hollywood decided to turn the beloved strip into a holiday movie. The idea was to show that the two-dimensional characters would translate easily into flesh-and-blood actors. That TV movie would act as a pilot for a sitcom.
Five-year-old Ron Howard — known at the time as “Little Ronnie Howard,” MeTv notes — played Barnaby. Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, played Mr. O’Malley.
Howard began acting at 2 years old. So, Andy Griffith producers were already familiar with his work. They wanted him for Opie Taylor, but it wasn’t completely clear if he would be available. Barnaby producers had Ron Howard tied up, and if their sitcom got the greenlight then Howard would be locked into that role.
Luckily for The Andy Griffith Show fans, that show didn’t happen.
What did come from the movie was a lot of great press for Ron Howard. And his stand-out performance helped book his passage to Mayberry.
The Andy Griffith Show Also Created an Opie Clothing Line
It’s hard to imagine Ron Howard as a fashion icon, but he could have been. That’s because The Andy Griffith Show wanted to create a clothing line based on Opie. Again, not the first person you think of when you think style. But Ron Howard’s parents put the kibosh on the wannabe OshKosh B’Gosh idea.
“I wasn’t really a Hollywood kid too much,” Howard told the Washington Post in 1985. “Because I didn’t really know any other Hollywood kids, and my parents didn’t allow my time away from The Andy Griffith Show to be absorbed by promotional things.
“Somebody wanted to do an Opie line of boys’ clothing, and I guess it would have been a fairly lucrative thing, but they wanted me to travel to different department stores. And my parents just said no.”
But don’t worry, Howard did just fine as a child actor. In fact, he was making more than his baseball heroes.
“In ’66 when (Sandy) Koufax and (Don) Drysdale were holding out for $100,000, I remember reading that — it was headlines in the sports page every day,” Ron Howard told the paper. “And (he) sat down and figured out what my salary was going to be for the 34 shows we were going to do that year. And it came to $105,000.
“When it occurred to me that at 12 I was making the same money that Koufax was, that was the first time that I put in perspective what the money was.”