Ron Howard is best known for his initial work as a child actor, such as his portrayal of Richie Cunningham in the beloved sitcom Happy Days. Eventually, Howard left the show to focus on directing and has taken the lead on a number of excellent films, including Cinderella Man and A Beautiful Mind.
Howard was also lucky enough to have worked alongside the legendary John Wayne on the 1976 western The Shootist, which wound up being The Duke’s final film. Howard was in his early 20s when he performed in the film but wasn’t thrown off by starring alongside big names like Wayne, John Carradine, and James Stewart.
Discussing the first moments Howard met The Duke and how he earned his respect, he once said: “The very first time that I met him, I arrived in Carson City, Nevada, and I was met by the director Don Seigel at the hotel, and Seigel said, ‘Let’s take you up and meet Duke’. This was his last movie, The Shootist.” Of course, Howard most likely considered himself very fortunate to meet a film star like Wayne at such a young age.
In the lobby of the hotel, there was a small shop selling magazines, and on the front of one of the TV guides, there were Howard and Henry Winkler posing in their Happy Days costumes. Seigel decided to buy a copy of the magazine to show to Wayne, even though Howard himself was sceptical of the idea.
“We went up, opened the door and met John Wayne,” Howard continued. “He’s this giant, he reaches out his hand to meet mine, and it just dwarfs my hand. He was just huge.” Wayne’s impression of young Howard didn’t get much better when Seigel showed him the magazine with Howard on the front.
Wayne took one look at it and said, “Ah, big shot, huh?” Howard went on, “I thought, ‘Oh, man, I’m screwed now.’” However, he found that his rapport with Wayne improved greatly when they started practising their lines together and eventually shooting the film.
“I could just see that he was fighting the lines, and I was a little nervous about it too. I said, ‘You want to run the lines?’ and he said, ‘Yeah’,” Howard noted. “We went to his trailer and started running the lines, and he loved it. People were otherwise kind of on edge or terrified of him.”
Howard approached Wayne in a different way from other actors, and it left a big impression on him, earning Howard his respect. He said: “I just realised that other people weren’t engaging with him. He was an actor and wanted to make sure he had the scene under control. We developed a great rapport.”
In fact, Wayne had expressed a desire to work with Howard again at an AFI dinner honouring Henry Fonda. “He said, ‘I found a book I want to make it into a movie, and it’s you or me or nobody’. It was really poignant to see that he still had that drive.” Wayne was already ill by that point and sadly passed away in June 1979, but he would always live in the heart of Ron Howard.