Ron Howard Says "Happy Days" Pressure Caused These Physical Symptoms
"But [my hair] started coming out in alarming clumps during this time."
Ron Howard is known primarily as a director these days, but when he started his career way back in the late 1950s at the age of five, Howard was a child actor. His first major role came as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, which ran from 1960 to 1968. A few years later, he landed another iconic character: Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. But, while Howard was already quite used to being on TV sets, appearing on the series was still stressful for the young actor. In his new memoir, Howard shares that the beginning of Happy Days' run took such a toll of him that he experienced physical symptoms in response to the pressure, particularly as it pertained to one co-star.
Howard looks back on Happy Days and more in the new book, The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family, which he co-wrote with his brother and fellow actor Clint Howard. Howard and his brother were both child stars, and they share their personal stories of growing up in front of the camera in their book. Read on to see what Howard revealed about his time on Happy Days, including the one situation that affected him the most.
Howard was worried about how popular another character was becoming.
When Happy Days premiered, Fonzie, played by Henry Winkler, was not a main character. But, due to his popularity, Fonzie gradually became a larger part of the show, which made Howard, the lead of the series, feel threatened. ABC even considered renaming the show Fonzie's Happy Days. In the book, Howard says that the series' creator Garry Marshall said he wouldn't change the title if Howard didn't approve, and he didn't.
"The biggest stressor of all was Fonzie. Not Henry [Winkler], but Fonzie," Howard writes in The Boys, according to the New York Post. "It did not escape my notice that as the season went on, the Fonz was getting more and more screen time."
This is when Howard began losing his hair.
Howard, who was 20 when the series premiered, explains that the distress he experienced at this time caused him to develop eczema and lose his hair. "I didn't handle my stress particularly well," he writes in the book. "I probably would have benefited from seeing a psychotherapist … Instead, I kept everything inside. Then I started breaking out in eczema rashes all over my body, most acutely on my eyelids … And my hair started thinning. Looking at the men on both sides of my family, I knew it was inevitable … But it started coming out in alarming clumps during this time."
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He also experienced anxiety as a child star.
In an interview about the book with The Hollywood Reporter, Howard shared that when he started appearing as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, he was teased in school. "In retrospect, it was definitely anxiety-provoking, particularly going back to the public schools," he said. "The life that's supposed to be quote normal and finding it alienating and even a little threatening and frightening at times, and yet learning to navigate that and cope with that … and then understanding how that somehow made me different in the world. I had to accept that in a way." He added, "I don't think people would've thought that was a difficulty or a challenge that I was particularly coping with."
The brothers' parents helped them survive child stardom.
Clint was also a child star. He starred on the series Gentle Ben and appeared on a few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, along with many other roles, and is still an actor today. Both Howard brothers recognize that the support and love of their parents helped them get through child stardom, as well as Clint's later issues with alcohol and drugs. He's now been sober for 30 years.
"What I found amazing about Mom and Dad after we had finished the book was just how consistent they were," Clint told The Hollywood Reporter. "I always knew they were great parents but I never before recognized how magical they were."
In some ways, Howard didn't realize how terrifying child stardom can be until he was an adult.
Writing the book made Howard look back at his time as a young actor differently and realize just how challenging being a child star is. "We just began to realize [when] looking back that this notion of us surviving and even flourishing, and then transitioning into adulthood in a constructive, positive way was a mission," he said in The Hollywood Reporter interview. "It was a challenge. It was a journey. For us living through it at the time, it was our lives but, looking back on it, we recognized just how fraught it was in various ways. The business is sort of set up for child thespians to fail, ultimately, and on an emotional level, it's supercharged with anxiety-provoking aspects."