Feb. 15, 2024 in Models & Actresses Photos by Charlotte Sinclair


Litle Opie has grown up and become a hotshot film director. Apparently, goin' fishin' with Andy and hanging out with the Fonz paid off. Not to mention an assortment of serious TV-film roles, a lead in "American Graffiti" and an apprenticeship ("Grand Theft Auto") in the Roger Corman school for budding directors. To Ron Howard's recent big-screen credit are "Night Shift" and "Splash." We asked Contributing Editor David Rensin to meet with Howard in Hollywood as he was putting the finishing touches on "Cocoon," just released. Says Rensin, "Ron Howard does not look dumb in a mustache. Aunt Bee would be mighty proud."


PLAYBOY: Could you, as a director, have improved Happy Days?

HOWARD: I never thought I could make the show better. But to tell you the truth, I never understood the show or why people liked it so much. We were doing good work, but I figured out early on that it was a genre I didn't relate to very well. I only knew that it was working. People would come up and say, *That scene when you two dressed up as girls was so funny!" But the whole time I was dressed up, I was thinking, Boy, this is really lame. I eventually came to understand it as a fantasy of home life in the Fifties. Fonzie was a fantasy hood. I was a fantasy nice guy. Howard and Marion were fantasy parents.


PLAYBOY: Ever get any good advice from your fantasy parents?

HOWARD: Tom Bosley is a good business-man. He told us all to buy houses, and he was right. He told us all to incorporate, and he was right again. During the first few years, we were all bombarded with investment representatives. We didn't know how to handle that. My real parents knew show business well but were unsophisticated about investments. So Tom would sit with us and explain why we needed life insurance even though we were only 22 years old and how to be responsible with our money.


PLAYBOY: What was Opie short for?

HOWARD: Nothing. It was the name of a bandleader famous during Andy Griffith's childhood he visited different towns and played in the gazebo on Sunday after-noons. Andy thought he was the greatest. So when they developed the show, he suggested the name and I got stuck with it. When you're a kid, Opie is not such a great name. I've had people with red hair and freckles come up to me and say, "All my life, people have called me Opie." I always say. *Isn't that horrible when you're not making any money off it?" Besides, Opic rhymes with a lot of things. They don't sound bad now-dopey, soapy-but when you're nine.... Later, when drugs became important, it was "Hey, Opium." I took quite a razzing.


PLAYBOY: Any physical abuse?

HOWARD: Used to be. All through elementary school, there used to be at least two weeks of fights when the year started. But I was a pretty good fighter. My dad and I used to watch wrestling on TV. We'd even wrestle a bit ourselves. He'd be the Destroyer and I would be Freddie Blassie or Cowboy Bob Ellis. So I could get guys in scissors locks and half nelsons. But one day, when a kid was giving me trouble, I realized there was more to fighting. He gave me three jabs and knocked me down. I couldn't get up for my flying drop kick. It was a whole new thing.

But the fighting stopped-except on my first day in high school. I was scrambling around, trying to find my classes, and in the middle of zipping one way and zipping another, I stepped on this short Mexican's white shoes. Everything stopped. He said, "Clean them off, fucker." I looked around. There was a whole group of kids around me. It was like my first test. I said, "I'm sorry I stepped on your shoes, but I'm not going to clean them off." But he just said, "Clean them off, fucker!" I didn't know what to do. He had a bunch of pals and mine were nowhere around. So I said no and took a half-baked swing at him. He took a jab at me and missed. Then the bell rang and we were standing there staring at each other. People started drifting away and we used it as an excuse, too.


PLAYBOY: To what do you attribute Don Knotts's enduring popularity?

HOWARD: [Long laugh] He's so sensitive. He's the most vulnerable person you've ever seen on TV-but you like it. Of course, he's actually more self-assured, because he's been a star for a long time. But I think the character was born out of all that is really Don Knotts. When he's doing that character, the poor guy could disintegrate before your very eyes, and you don't want to see that happen. And he does it better than anyone else. However, I think that at any moment, he will pop up in some interesting movie as a completely different, serious character and just blow everyone away.


PLAYBOY: What should someone your age already know about life? And when did you learn it?

HOWARD: [Quickly] First, you have to realize that life isn't fair. But you can manipulate it. You sure as heck can't wait for any-body. You just can't. However, it's not the easiest thing to do. A lot of anxiety comes with taking control. Not everyone can like you. That doesn't mean you have to go around screwing people like a son of a bitch. But you've got to know you can't always say yes. You've got to know that everyone who comes up with an idea may not have the right idea for you-even if it's your wife, your best friend or someone you're trying to please. Learning to seize control of my own life is the most important thing I've picked up. I didn't know it until I was about 21. One more thing I've learned, especially where directing is con-cerned, is that the adage "The more you know, the less you know" is true. It's scary to realize you're just out here, floating.


PLAYBOY: Since you mention floating, how much fun was it casting the mermaid in Splash? Did you sit in front of a big tank? And why were you so demure about nudity? One critic complained that Daryl Hannah's hair never moved.

HOWARD: We got very lucky with Daryl Hannah, because we didn't interview people on the basis of their swimming ability.

We were looking for an actress and figured we'd use a double for the mermaid stuff. We settled on Daryl after a long, painful search. Then I asked her to go along when we looked for doubles so we could compare shapes. But she said she was a good swimmer and had wanted to be a mermaid since she was little. It was kind of like the actor up for a part in a Western who always answers the question "Can you ride?" with "Like the wind." Then he falls off. But Daryl jumped into the pool and swam with these aqua ballerinas and she was just so beautiful, arrest-ing. I met her on the surface and told her to do herself a favor and get into the best shape possible so she could do her own swimming.

I expected more nudity. But when Daryl took the role, she surprised us by saying she wouldn't do nudity; that she hated it; that she'd had enough of it in her previous films. Her nudity in Summer Lovers was like non-nudity, but apparently it wasn't filmed that way. But I felt there were a few places in Splash where I had to establish that this woman didn't care whether or not she was naked; that she was topless under the water; that she had arrived naked at the Statue of Liberty. I kept running around, saying that we couldn't let the film become a Doris Day Fifties mermaid movie-especially because Disney was releasing it. We designed all sorts of mermaid tails. Some covered the breasts, but they made Daryl look like Esther Williams-hokey. We were always going to have her covered by the hair, but we found we could cover more. In fact, once we'd established our style, people thought it was neat that they weren't seeing too much. It was sexier, In fact, we actually edited out some of the underwater stuff and kept her covered up.


PLAYBOY: Which other actresses would you like to direct in a nude scene?

HOWARD: God, can I name them all? Phoebe Cates. I think she has a great body. I've interviewed her a few times and she can act. Elizabeth McGovern. Her nude scenes in Ragtime were great, because she was sexy but had no idea she was—which meant that she had to know in order to do the scene. For Night Shift, we auditioned lots of girls topless—just taking off their clothes and running around. It was sort of disappointing. I guess I figured I'd get excited by the whole thing, maybe get an erection. But it was just uncomfortable. I felt bad for the women and they felt kind of awkward. So I'm probably more interested in what a girl can bring to the scene besides just a great body.

There's one other woman I'd like to direct, and she's going to kill me for saying this—but it's Penny Marshall. It would be hysterical. I've never seen her nude, but she actually has a pretty good body. What she would say and what she would go through would be hysterical. In fact, I'd like to direct Penny Marshall in those scenes from Ragtime.

Elizabeth McGovern / Can.AI


PLAYBOY: Every director leaves great scenes on the cutting-room floor. What wonderful moment from Cocoon won't we ever see?

HOWARD: The best was when we were filming in the Coliseum Ballroom in St. Peters-burg. It was built in the Twenties and is just like a giant Quonset hut. People still gather there two nights a week to dance, and one dance is everyone's favorite: the chicken. As soon as the bandleader says, "OK. I haven't forgotten. Now it's time for the chicken," all these 75- and 80-year-old people start flapping their arms and poking around like chickens. I managed to get all of our actors doing this-except Wilford Brimley. But to get all this into the film would have been about a six-minute investment. If I had been Michael Cimino filming The Deer Hunter, I might have stayed with it, but I decided instead to move the story along.


PLAYBOY: What are three secrets to keeping a marriage together in show business?

HOWARD: First, you've got to keep sexuality in perspective. Stay virtuous. It's not the casiest town in which to stay that way, because there are so many beautiful and exciting people running around. And when you're working on a film on which money is being spent so fast and people are thrown together, pooling all their resources and sometimes going to strange places to do it, suddenly total strangers can become best friends. And sometimes, although you know there's nothing more there, you almost feel compelled to consummate a relationship.

Second, you have to avoid being seduced by the business to the point where it takes over everything in your life. It's very demanding. There's always someone with a great deal, or someone who's dying to invest $25,000,000 in pictures. There's always an actor or a writer you can meet, a party or a screening you can go to. If you wanted to, you could do the business from a seven-A.M. breakfast at the Polo Lounge until two in the morning—every day! And all of a sudden, you realize you're not married.

Third, never work with your wife. My wife has become a writer. We actually tried to do a script together. It was a bad idea. You don't get good vibes from peo-ple. They feel it's nepotism. Even more, it means you can't go home and escape the business. You don't have someone to give you real perspective on what you do. Movies become so important that if your part-ner, who happens to be your wife or husband, is screwing up a deal, you could go so crazy that it would endanger or end the marriage because - at the moment - the deal seems more important.


PLAYBOY: How do you beat stress?

HOWARD: I don't. I'm a very unhealthy guy.

This is a serious question. I've got to work on it. I spend so much time being conscientious in work that I don't play tennis twice a week or play baseball or jog. I get up before my wife and daughter and read a script. I have breakfast and then work all day long. Afterward, I go home and play with my daughter and play with my wife and go to sleep. That's my life. I think I've got to get on the stick here. On Splash, when we were doing all the diving, I was eating like a horse, was getting great exercise and was in great shape. But I found out I couldn't keep eating like that when I was sitting in front of a Movieola. So I ballooned in postproduction. I couldn't do a nude scene. My butt is too lumpy.


PLAYBOY: What's the best rumor you've ever heard about yourself?

HOWARD: That I was the largest dope dealer on the USC campus, a major connection, making millions of dollars a year doing dope while I was acting in American Graf-fiti. And people really believed it. And 1 kept hearing it even after I left USC. Marion Ross has a son five years younger than I am. One day she came to me and said he was shattered. At his high school, they were talking about drugs, and she said, "He heard you were the biggest drug dealer at USC." I couldn't believe it! Even producer Brian Grazer, who went to USC, told me he'd heard it. Of course, no one ever came up to me at school and tried to buy anything. But I never denied it too much, either. I got too big a kick out of it.


PLAYBOY: Who can still call you Ronnie?

HOWARD: My wife. Henry Winkler, some-times. Brian Grazer can get away with it some of the time. Nobody has to call me Mr. Howard, though. I cringe at that.


PLAYBOY: How long have you had your mustache and how long did it take to grow?

HOWARD: It's about three and a half years old. There was at least a year of penciling it in when I went on talk shows. I grew it to look older. I keep wanting to shave it off, but my wile says not to. Maybe one day I'll need to look younger and it will go.


PLAYBOY: Was it tough for you to be taken seriously as a director in Hollywood because of your history?

HOWARD: Tough. Everyone took a fairly patronizing attitude with me, a very sale one, in retrospect. They said that if I wanted to be a director, they were sure that one day I could. "You can do it, Ronnie. Why not? Maybe when you're 30, 35." But no one was really being encourag-ing. It bothered me, because my goal had been to direct a feature when I was still in my teens. My looking so young was also a drawback at the time, but finally Roger Corman gave me my first break and people began coming around.


PLAYBOY: What does Roger Corman—who has given many of today's well-known actors and directors their first chance— know that he could bottle and sell?

HOWARD: He knows that above all, concept is the important thing. High concept. He knows that coming-attraction trailers are crucial. He figures that if he has a good trailer and a good concept, he doesn't have to spend very much money or even have particularly experienced people doing the job. But if they can just execute the material to a quasi-acceptable degree, he can get a good trailer out of the material and get people to show up at a picture that didn't really cost anything. That doesn't apply to most other producers, who want people to see the film more than once. Roger doesn't care about that.


PLAYBOY: Defend Robby Benson.

HOWARD: Oh, no! Well-Robby is a good, solid, thoughtful actor. But he's at an awkward time right now. A few years ago, people thought he was great because he was this kid and he was funny. His problem now is that you know he's not a kid, but he still doesn't look like a man. His voice still seems a little funny, even though he's maybe 27, 28. He's just got to get older. Then he has a strong career ahead. That also happened to me, but I bailed out and became a director. I'd made the transition from kid to juvenile to young adult. But I wasn't sure I could make it to adult, even though I had done a few TV movies and had played adults. I think that if I had stayed with Happy Days and had taken all that money I was offered, I would be very frustrated right now.


PLAYBOY: What do you know about Henry Winkler that no one has ever asked you and you've been dying to tell?

HOWARD: People think of him as so cool because of the Fonz, the way he handles himself on talk shows, in public. He's always got an answer. He's bright. But no one ever asked what he was like when he got hurt. Henry really wants to be liked all the time by everyone. It makes him a wonderful guy on one hand. But he sort of can't accept it if someone doesn't return the affection. I've seen him almost break down in tears when he felt he was being mistreated —especially when he was learning how to deal with Fonzie mania. His vulnerability is an endearing quality, but no one ever thinks of him as vulnerable.


PLAYBOY: What's Richie Cunningham's biggest secret?

HOWARD: That he actually had sex with Shirley after that Laverne & Shirley spinoff where Fonzie gets Richie a date with a loose woman. It didn't work out that night, but I just know that Richie wandered over there one night and scored— because he was such a nice guy.


PLAYBOY: Which parent told you about sex?

HOWARD: My dad. It was memorable. I was five years old and we were living in a small apartment in Burbank. My parents said they were getting ready to have a baby. I asked how that worked. I remember my dad sort of looking down at me and rubbing his eyes with his hands and sighing and saying, "All right, come on in here." He started drawing these pictures. First a woman—he couldn't draw very well, but he gave her pubic hair and a couple of breasts. Then a man, with a penis. Then an erection. And he gave me the whole thing, saying, "Well, the penis goes in here, into the woman, and then the man plants a seed." It was great. When I got to the eighth grade, which is when they explain all that stuff in school, I remember thinking how cool my dad had been about all that stuff. He was incredibly open about it. [Long pause and growing smile] And I can anticipate your next question.

Yes, I did. Oh, my God! It's absolutely true, The first time I had sex, I thought of the pictures!

Original source Playboy Magazine, August 1985

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