Rance Howard and son Ron Howard during "Cinderella Man" Los Angeles Premiere at Gibsob Amphitheater in Universal City, California, United States.
Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Ranch Howard: Ron Howard's Dad and Occasional 'Andy Griffith Show' Co-Star

Despite all of the success that Ron Howard has found in the world of Hollywood, he seems like a genuinely grounded person. He has a healthy and stable family life, as does his actress daughter Bryce Dallas Howard, and a lot of that comes from his family's humble beginnings in Oklahoma. Long before he was starring on a sitcom in Los Angeles, his parents Jean and Rance Howard attended the University of Oklahoma and decided to become professional actors.

Rance first got the acting bug after performing in a 7th-grade Christmas play. It was an interesting aspiration for the small-town boy growing up on a farm. 

"I was suddenly transformed into the character I was playing and realized I had control of the audience," Howard recalled to The Oklahoman. "When I came back to Earth a few days later, I knew I wanted to be an actor." 

After studying at OU together, Rance married Jean Speegle and they moved to New York City together where they toured in a children's theater. But the actor really got his big break from touring with the play Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda and started getting attention from Hollywood to appear in films and TV shows. Coincidentally, his big film debut was also the film debut for a young Ron Howard...or Ronny as he was known as a child.

Actor Rance Howard with his arms around his sons Ron and Clint, also actors, at a screening of the movie 'Where the Lilies Bloom', at the Screen Directors Guild, Hollywood, February 1974

Frank Edwards/Archive Photos/Getty Images

At the time, Rance and Jean thought it would be fun to have an 18-month-old Ronny featured in the film to show his grandparents. So Rance approached the director of Frontier Woman with the suggestion. Though he was initially dismissed, the director later changed his mind and asked if they could get his son to cry in a scene.

"He wanted someone in the crowd to distract the political speech and asked if we could make Ron cry," Howard told The Oklahoman. "So I thought about it. There were a couple of Native American boys from the Pearl River Reservation who were working in the film. Ron had become fascinated by one of their prop tomahawks and would bawl whenever it was taken away from him."

"Just before the camera comes around to Jean and Ron, one of the boys snatches the tomahawk away, and Ron begins to howl," Howard recalled. "The politician stops, comes over to Jean and says, 'You'd better take that baby home lady. I think he's sick.' And that was Ron's introduction to moviemaking."

As Ron's career started to take off, Jean put her own acting career on hold for three decades though she came back in the 80s and 90s before her death in 2000. While Ron became a household name, starring as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham in Happy Days, Rance continued acting as a character actor, similar to his son, actor Clint Howard. One thing he made sure to do was to focus on setting a strong foundation for his children by setting aside their acting money for the future. 

"We were well aware of all the traps that Hollywood parents and children fall into when the child becomes the breadwinner," Howard said. "We were determined to live on what I could afford and put the boys' money away for them."

Over the years, Rance appeared on numerous TV shows — The Waltons, Gunsmoke, Mork & Mindy, Murder, She Wrote, Seinfeld, Grey's Anatomy, and even Andy Griffith and Return to Mayberry. He also has a slew of impressive films on his resume like Chinatown, Cool Hand Luke, Ed Wood, The Alamo, Georgia Rule, Independence Day, Joe Dirt, Mars Attacks, The 'Burbs, Rat Race and more.

As soon as his son Ron transitioned into famed director Ron Howard, Rance regularly starting appearing in his films like Grand Theft Auto, Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood, Far and Away, Apollo 13, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind, The Missing, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon and Gung Ho. All of Rance's sacrifices early in life paid off, and it's no doubt that the strong family foundation he provided his sons helped Ron grow into the renowned Oscar winner he is today. Sadly Rance passed away in 2017, but his legacy will always live on in his talented family members.

"Without a doubt, I think of their great work ethic and a grit and determination that was very present with them," Ron explained describing his parents to Tulsa World. "You could not outwork my dad — no one could — and that was his Oklahoma roots."

READ MORE: Ron Howard's Twin Daughters Jocelyn and Paige Howard Look Just Like Him