In 1976, the last movie that legendary western actor John Wayne would ever film was released. “The Shootist” also starred Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, and “Happy Days” star Ron Howard. And apparently, Howard, who played a character named Gillom Rogers, earned John Wayne’s respect.
Ron Howard was just a few years into his iconic role of Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days” when he got the opportunity to work with John Wayne. Wayne himself wasn’t in the best of health at the time. He was dealing with the fallout of a lung cancer diagnosis years earlier. And he would die a few years later of stomach cancer. His health problems made him perfect in “The Shootist” role, however. He played J.B. Books, a gunfighter diagnosed with terminal cancer.
In a 1976 interview with Phil Donahue, John Wayne talked about how impressed he was with his co-star Ron Howard after working with him. He even joked that he’d selfishly love to be his agent.
“A young fella named Ron Howard, who I think is as good an actor as I’ve ever worked with. He’s just wonderful,” Wayne said. “I’d be proud to have him be my boy. I’d be prouder if I was his agent and he was my brother.”
Those are some strong words from the Duke. But as much respect as he had for Howard after they worked together, he didn’t think all that much of him at first.
The Relationship Between John Wayne and Ron Howard on Set
Apparently, the beginning of John Wayne and Ron Howard’s relationship left a lot to be desired. The “Happy Days” star brought a magazine with him on the cover to “The Shootist” set. When he saw the cover, Wayne wasn’t impressed.
But after the “Happy Days” star proved himself a more than capable actor and asked Wayne to run lines with him, which is not something people typically asked John Wayne to do, the young actor began to grow on him. And according to Howard, the respect was mutual.
In a 2014 interview with the Huffington Post, Ron Howard talked about his experience working with John Wayne.
“But he’s working on this scene and he’s like, ‘Let me try this again.’ And he put the little hitch in and he’d find the Wayne rhythm, and you’d realize that it changed the performance each and every time,” the “Happy Days” star said. “I’ve worked with Bette Davis, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda. Here’s the thing they all have in common: They all, even in their 70s, worked a little harder than everyone else.”
So even though it got off to a rough start, the relationship between Wayne and Howard turned out to be one of mutual respect, with the Duke like a proud father.