The 89-year-old Hollywood veteran was the father of actor-filmmaker Ron Howard.
The Cowboys & Indians crew would like to extend condolences to the friends and family of Rance Howard — father of actor-filmmaker Ron Howard and actor Clint Howard, and grandfather of actresses Bryce Dallas Howard and Paige Howard — who passed away Saturday in Los Angeles at age 89.
A native of Duncan, Oklahoma, Howard enjoyed a decades-long career as a journeyman character actor in films and television. After appearing on stage opposite Henry Fonda for more than a year in the touring company production of the play Mister Roberts, he made his movie debut in the 1956 western Frontier Woman alongside his wife, actress Jean Speegle (who died in 2000), and their son Ron — who was not quite two years old at the time.
Director Ron Ormond “wanted someone in the crowd to distract [people during a] political speech, and asked if we could make Ron cry,” Howard told an interviewer for The Oklahoman newspaper in 2014. “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.”
When shooting for the scene started, his mother held young Ron off camera with the prop in his hands. “Just before the camera comes around to Jean and Ron,” Howard told The Oklahoman, “one of the boys snatches the tomahawk away, and Ron begins to howl. 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.”
Howard later appeared in guest parts five times on The Andy Griffith Show, the popular sitcom in which Ron costarred as the precocious Opie Taylor. He also had a continuing role opposite his son Clint in the 1967-69 CBS series Gentle Ben.
After Ron Howard became a director, he cast his father in several features, including Grand Theft Auto (1977), his feature directorial debut, and A Beautiful Mind (2001), for which he won the Academy Award as Best Director.
In a 2012 interview with The Huffington Post, Rance Howard was asked if he ever felt awkward taking direction from his son. “Oh, it was easy,” he replied. “Ron is such a good communicator. He can explain to the actors what he’s looking for in the scene. He is just a dream director to work with. Some people may feel differently, but I don’t have any trouble saying to myself, ‘OK, Ron is a director. He’s your son and offstage or at home or on the basketball court, you don’t have to take his direction. But on the set he’s the director and whatever he says goes.’”
During the golden age of TV westerns, Howard was a guest star on such series as Bat Masterson, The Virginian, Gunsmoke and Death Valley Days. He also played a small-town doctor in five episodes of The Waltons, and had supporting roles in dozens of films, including An Eye for an Eye (1966), Chinatown (1974), The Cowboy Way (1994), Ed Wood (also 1994), Independence Day (1996), The Alamo (2004), The Lone Ranger and Nebraska (both 2013). “I’ve played doctors, judges, sheriffs — as a character actor, I’ve run the gamut,” Howard told The Oklahoman. “But someone checked and told me I’ve played more men of the cloth than any other actor.”
Howard portrays an Alzheimer’s disease-stricken family man in the forthcoming drama Broken Memories, one of his final screen credits. Although he could not attend the Beverly Hills world premiere of the film earlier this month, he was well represented at the screening by his son Ron, who told The Hollywood Reporter that his father “has an undying love of the process, which has made him appreciate every day on a film or television set. And he’s never lost the youthful excitement for being a part of a process that tells a story that reaches audiences in different ways and reflects the work of a team of collaborators that share that excitement.
“And that always rubbed off on me, that joy of being lucky enough to be among the storytellers.”