Decades before his Oscar-winning career as the director of such films as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man (not to mention two of my favorites, Cocoon and Splash), Ron Howard's creative mind began taking shape playing the only child of a widowed sheriff on The Andy Griffith Show. After Griffith's passing on July 3, Howard spent his Independence Day holiday reflecting on the happy days he shared in Mayberry with a man he would always treasure. In his own words, Howard shares with TV Guide Magazine what Andy Griffith meant to him:
"Andy's passing and the outpouring of love and appreciation from fans and the media has caused me to look more deeply at my relationship with Andy Griffith the person than perhaps I've ever done.
I had three remarkable 'TV dads' between the years 1960 and 1980. There was Tom Bosley, who was the head of the Cunningham household on Happy Days from '74 through '80 [when Howard left the show], and Henry Fonda from The Smith Family in '71 and '72. And of course I played Opie Taylor, son of Andy on The Andy Griffith Show, from 1960 to 1968.
All three of these shows and these great men meant a tremendous deal to me. I learned from all of them, but I realize that it is my experiences around Andy that clearly had the greatest defining effect on my life.
I had what I guess I'd describe as an It's a Wonderful Life moment yesterday as I was talking to my father, Rance, and brother, Clint, at our July 4 family gathering. In that Frank Capra classic, Jimmy Stewart's character learns what an impact he's had on his community and is forced to imagine what the world would be like had he not made the life choices (some of them sacrifices) he had made. He is moved to realize what a positive difference his choices have made.
Well, I can't imagine what my life would have been like without The Andy Griffith Show. Andy's particular talents, along with his creative instincts and work ethic, combined to offer all of us a unique professional experience. For myself, as a young person literally growing up (I was on the show from age 6 to 14) around the creation and production of the series, it very specifically shaped my understanding of what popular entertainment could mean to people and gave me some fantastic examples of how good work could be achieved.
Andy was at the heart of all those great object lessons, as the show and the way the show was created really took on his sensibilities. And over and over, Andy's sensibilities proved to be working. Mostly it defined my point of view that popular entertainment didn't need to look and sound and feel like other shows to have enduring impact on viewers. In fact, watching and learning from Andy lead me to understand that while risky, there were in fact great rewards in offering audiences something new and different...especially if it came from a place of creative integrity and respect for the audience.
In the case of The Andy Griffith Show, creative integrity meant that Andy's personal affection for the world we were depicting and his and the show's creators desire to suggest that not only families, but entire communities, can make huge differences in people's lives was front and center, and never to be under cut for the sake of a joke or a story twist.
The Andy Griffith Show changed the lives of all of us involved and perhaps influenced a few generations of fans, because Andy's vision and creative courage were supported by executives, sponsors and collaborators and something truly original was given a chance.
So, while it's impossible to predict what would have happened to little Ronny Howard without Andy Griffith, I will forever be grateful for the possibilities his vision and talent and nature gave me. Quite a gift." — Ron Howard