“Saturday Night Live” is all about sketch comedy. Nobody does sketch comedy better than Carol Burnett and Tim Conway. Nobody. “The Carol Burnett Show,” which aired on CBS from 1967 to 1978, made grown people pee in their pants and gave children the gift of spending an hour in their living rooms laughing out loud with their parents.
Yes, Burnett is 79 and Conway is 78, but they’ve still got it. I know this because they were guests on “Anderson Live” recently and neither one drooled on their microphones. They kept their eyes wide open and were as hip as ever. People age. It happens. So let them poke a little fun of the aging process. Maybe Burnett can’t climb a ladder in stilettos any more or balance a curtain rod on her shoulders (the Scarlett O’Hara sketch was one of the funniest skits in the history of television) but she could play the wife of Conway’s “old man” character as both walk on stage at a snail’s pace dressed in old-people clothes donning wigs and make-up. Picture it. The funny part is them taking two minutes 30 seconds to get out on stage while taking tiny baby steps like old people tend to do when they get feeble. In a perfect world, everyone will turn 95 one day so let’s have some fun with it.
The opening monologue — with the two of them — might include Burnett in one of her old Bob Mackie gowns with a taped-up zipper in the back and Conway just dusting off some old cobwebs (yes, real cobwebs). They’ll be funny because they will write the monologue themselves — or with the help of some of their former CBS writers (We need that element of witty, spontaneous stand-up dialogue on SNL).
While we’re at it, let’s bring in the greatest “dead-pan” comedy icon in the business, Bob Newhart, as a special guest along with SNL alums Billy Crystal (“Fernando”) & Christopher Guest (“I hate when that happens”); Steve Martin & Dan Akyroyd (the wild and crazy guys now have age spots); Martin Short (Ed Grimley owns a diner); Pat Sajak makes a surprise cameo when he walks into “Ed Grimley’s Diner” — he’s Burnett & Conway’s character’s son. They commence arguing in front of him about whose side of the family he got his talent from. Conway can do a take-off on the Tum’s commercial, letting his pizza smack him in the face as he’s trying to eat it. The trick is, nobody in this scene should know he’s going to do the pizza-smacking routine (special effects kick in here) so we can watch the best comedians in the business — who are in this scene with him — laugh out loud at this veteran prankster.
In separate segments, Dana Carvey — the Church Lady — speaks to same-sex couple Conway & Newhart. Eddie Murphy shows up in another segment. His character is the last patient to get a colonoscopy from Conway, a retiring proctologist with shaky hands … no rehearsals so we get to hear the “Mr. Robinson” comedian laugh — kind of like Harvey Korman used to do when Conway would adlib his moves (like in the dentist sketch). Ahhh, the Eddie Murphy laugh, priceless!!
Burnett could do her Gloria Swanson impersonation of “Sunset Blvd.” actress Norma Desmond (“Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”) with Crystal as an aging “Fernando,” Conway as an 85-year-old William Holden type who has a very large colostomy bag attached to his belt and Short as the nervous, sweating, chain-smoking Nathan Thurm who has no idea why he was invited to this cocktail party.
Conway is the quickest, most prolific ad-libber on two feet. He won five Emmy Awards for his work on “The Carol Burnett Show” and made the funniest acceptance speeches in the history of awards shows. In one acceptance speech the audience was laughing hysterically as he thanked random people who played no part in his life at all. I fell off my sofa laughing, almost hyperventilating. Give that man another Emmy!
Comedians should never retire. It’s kind of their duty to keep us laughing. You spoil us by making us laugh out loud, then you head into the sunset taking your talents with you? I don’t think so! Get back in the comedy pool so we can laugh again. Life is no fun without laughter.
Here’s the point Mr. SNL creator Lorne Michaels (the genus who hired all of the SNL veterans mentioned here): Wait until after the election, then bring out the big comedic guns. You’ve got the rolodex, they’ll take your calls. You’ve got the clout to make this happen. These veteran SNL comedians owe you, and they know how to get a crowd laughing out loud. I know this because I’ve seen them do it.
Oh, Vicki Lawrence as “Mama” can get Burnett’s “Eunice” riled up in front of the Church Lady. The possibilities are endless. And if Betty White wants to show up as Sue Ann Nivens (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) Rose Nyland (“The Golden Girls) or even Ellen Harper Jackson (the character she played on “Mama’s Family”) to interact with Mama and Eunice, that would be a bonus.
Maybe 90 minutes won’t be enough time. Sleep on it, and call them all in the morning. Think January. It’ll help us all escape those dreaded winter doldrums. Just do it.
Posted on Huff/Post50
It’s about time someone came forth to name the Sexiest Man Alive Over 50 (besides Sean Connery). Isn’t it our duty? OK, let’s make it our business..
We’re not in our 20s or 30s or 40s anymore, but we do have eyes; we do have fantasy libidos… and we do like a man with integrity. In the interest of all red-blooded American women who want to swoon over a man who is closer to the age of receiving Medicare benefits than getting diaper rash, we need a post-50 choice for Sexiest Man Alive.
And his name is: Tom Bergeron. His “aw shucks” attitude about being called the Sexiest Man Alive Over 50 was refreshing to say the least. (And Maks, you’re not the only one who would like to pinch his keister.) What makes him so endearing is his sense of humor, his boyish good looks, and the fact that he’s a happily married man of 30 years who truly loves his family… and he’s a recovering mime. (Who knew?) I caught up with the “Dancing With the Stars” host to pick his brain about a few things – including how it feels to be 57, his take on this season’s all-star cast of DWTS and if he could have a do-over in his life, what would it be?
I see on your Twitter profile that you are a recovering mime. So cute, but seriously?
That’s right. I studied and performed and even taught mime years ago. I grew up loving silent film comedy, Charlie Chaplin & [Buster] Keaton, [Harry] Langdon & [Harold] Lloyd and all these people, and physical comedy was always a love of mine so when I was interested in performing at some capacity, a local college – where I was doing a radio show at the time – offered a course, a mime course. I thought I’m going to try that. And I really took to it.
I thought you were kidding. I didn’t know you actually did mime.
Oh, absolutely. I wrote a book a few years ago that is currently holding up some of America’s finest windows. There is a picture of me doing street mime in old Montreal.
The book: “I’m Hosting As Fast As I Can: Zen and Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood?”
That’s it, yeah.
What is the art of staying sane in Hollywood? Is that even possible?
At the end of the book I allude to the fact that it’s really the same about being sane in Hollywood as anywhere else. There’s a subtext in the book about meditation, about being present, about being alive to the now of your life, and that is really, I think, the key whether you’re in Hollywood or in Poughkeepsie.
We want to get to know you a little better so tell us five things we don’t know about Tom Bergeron.
Let’s just say there’s four of them you don’t know because I don’t want you to know, and the fifth one you’ll have to find out on your own. (Laughs)
How can I do that?
That’s called a boomerang answer.
Is there anyone I can pay a few bucks to to find these things out about you?
No, my personal life is closely guarded.
When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be on radio.
You transitioned into television as a game-show host. Did you want to be an actor at any point in your life?
Yeah, I did. I loved the idea of doing improve theater but television happened really by accident. It was that radio show that I did in NH that got me into television because people who lived in the north shore of Massachusetts who worked in Boston TV station, listened to my radio show and as a result I got phone calls to come down to Boston and audition for things. Ultimately one of those auditions got me in the door at WBZ which was then the NBC affiliate. And I was there full and part time from ’81 until early 1994.
I saw that. I read and looked at it. It’s funny because I think I was [about] the only one in a solo picture. (Laughs).
You’ve been married 30 years. What’s the secret to a long happy marriage for you two?
Not taking [marriage] for granted and knowing – like anything – it’s a growing, living thing; you don’t exchange vows, put on the ring and then say ‘OK, that’s done.’ You’ve got to keep it alive and real as you grow and as your experience in life grows … as parents, and now we’re sort of semi empty nesters. We’re both very strong people individually. We know that we’d be OK on our own but we’re much better together. I think that we constantly renew that choice to be a team.
How did you meet Lois?
I was doing my nightly radio show which I did for a few years in Portsmouth, NH. I did it for a week from the set of the NH public television fundraising auction, and my program director really had to twist my arm to do that because I wanted to stay in a studio where I had complete control. … And then, the first night, I see this very hot red head walking around. She’s sometimes operating a camera, other times kind of barking orders at people and swearing like a truck driver. I thought: I gotta meet that woman.
What was your pick up line?
I invited her and her co-workers to come to a live show. We were doing a live broadcast – sort of a takeoff on SNL from what was then Theater By the Sea in Portsmouth. It was sketch comedy that I had written with some of my co-workers and I was doing improve. The show went very well but it was freaking her out. She was thinking: oh, God, the last thing I want to do is get involved with a performer. So after the show, the audience was invited next door to a big bar to have a post-show party and she and her co-workers came to that. She told me later, “I thought you were going to be insufferable. I thought you would just be basking in all of this post-show adulation.” And what I really wanted to do was get out of there. Because after the show is done – as anybody at DWTS can tell you, I’m the first one out of that building. (Laughs) I leave almost skid marks. I think the pick-up line which wasn’t’ intended to be a pick-up line was just her watching me not want to bask in this post-show stuff but to go out and have a real evening. I think that’s what kind of turned the tables.
How does Lois handle your celebrity when people come up to you on the street in public?
We both know that it’s an affirmation that what you’re doing is working. I would have to tell you I could count on one hand the amount of times that anybody came up and was either a little too over the top or was in any way making an uncomfortable situation. That’s over 30 years. And also there’s the knowledge that there will be a day when nobody comes up. It’s the nature of everybody’s career so make hay while the sun shines.
You have two daughters. Do they watch you?
Occasionally, but you’ve got to remember, their entire lives I’ve been on TV or radio – whether in Boston where they first grew up or on Hollywood Squares, so they’ve always grown up with me working on radio or television and having people kind of recognize me and come up and say hi. And we treat it very casually at home. They always knew I liked what I did and it provided us – and still does – with a very nice lifestyle, but it was always a gig. They never wondered where they were in the priorities. Sometimes when they were in high school and a friend would come over to our house for the first time, and I would open the door, and the kid would go: ‘You’re Tom Bergeron!’ (Laughs) And [my kids] hadn’t told them. And the girls have a hyphenated last name so it wasn’t quickly apparent with their friends.
So, all these years later, how did you get the call to host DWTS?
I got the call from my agent. We’ve been together for over 20 years. She’s use to me saying no to things. It might appear I work hard but I’m really quite lazy. At this point I was doing “America’s Funniest Videos,” for network and Hollywood Squares had just wrapped in ’04. So I think it was like February or March of ’05, and she said “ABC wants you to do a summer show, and you’re going to do it.” And I said, “Oh, really? What is it?” She said, “It’s live. You love live television.” I said, “Well, that’s true, what is it?” She said, “It’s a big hit in England!” I said, “OK, fine, what. is. it?” She said, “You’ve got to promise me before you answer yes or no, you’re going to look at a DVD of the British show, and then decide.” I said, “OK, that’s fair enough.” She said, “I’ll send it to you, it’ll be at the house tomorrow.” I said, “Oh, good, what is it?” She said, “It’s a celebrity ballroom competition.” I said, “Are you kidding me?! What don’t you just cast me in an infomercial and put a bullet in my career!” (Laughs) And then the next day, I didn’t look at more than 20 minutes of the show … and I liked it. I liked that it was a hybrid of old-style variety with modern reality. I liked the fact that it had a sense of humor about itself …and I thought, you know, it’s going to be a six-week summer show, what’s the harm? And it’s proven to be one of the real gifts of my career.
You are the perfect host for that show. You’re such a quick wit. You’re very quick on your feet. What’s your favorite come-back line with Len?
It’s hard, because as quickly as I come up with them, I forget them. Len and I – of the three judges – are probably the closest. When Lois and I have been in England, we’ve gone out with him and his fiancé Sue, and we get together for dinner when she’s in town. Len and Bruno do “Strictly Come Dancing” in England. I’m very fond of all three of them and particularly of Len.
Carrie Ann needs to get over that foot fetish – the lifting of a foot an eighth of an inch off the floor.
I think that’s her particular bug-a-boo, and Bruno gets more and more animated every season. I think I told him on the air once last season, you’re about one eruption away from living in Pixar. (Laughs)
I love his animation & energy.
The nice things about them, they are so distinctive. They play against each other so well. Each of them have such a distinctive energy about them. And we’ve been so fortunate, all these other shows, their judging panels have been like musical chairs. [Our judges] have been consistent with us and it has made a big difference. On those occasions when Len has been going – I think there has been three – there’s been a guest judge filling in, as well intentioned as they are, it just throws the whole show off.
Give me a little take on Bruno, Len & Carrie Ann as judges. When I watch the show, and I listen to their critiques, there are times when I think: are they watching the same dance I just watched?
I have that experience with all three of them sometimes. And I’ll grant you, I’m not schooled – even after having been doing this for seven years – I still am apt to be swayed by the emotion of something as opposed to the technique of it. It’s their job to be technically aware as well. Len is much stricter about the rules of the dance than say Bruno or Carrie Ann might be. But certainly there have been times over the run of the series where I look at them like they have three heads – individually have three heads (laughs) — because I just don’t see the same dance, but I’m not judging it through the same prism of experience either.
This season has got to be the most challenging season ever for DWTS because everyone can dance. Six of them have won, two came in second, two have placed third. Somebody has to go home first, and somebody has to go second.
[Exactly.] Imagination the humiliation of being the first one voted off of the all-star season. That’s it. Your life as you know it is over at that point. (Laughs) But that’s part of the high-wire act. That’s what makes it more compelling. It’ll be hard for them, but fascinating for us.
Quincy Jones had that great line with all the superstars who participated in the “We Are the World,” video. He said, “Check your egos at the door.”
Is it going to be kind of like that this season?
I don’t know. I kind of like the egos bumping into each other on live TV, don’t you? That’s just fun. (Laughs) I would hate for everybody to be on their best behavior. That would just be boring.
In the past you’ve had more than a couple of celebrity dancers that really did not take the judges critiques very well. Michael Bolton and Billy Ray Cyrus come to mind – not that I blame them. After the show was everybody OK?
You know, I don’t know if all those bridges were mended. Ultimately, I think some people took some of the criticisms to heart, and on occasion, some of the criticisms – to be fair to the stars – maybe got a little too personal or over theatrical. But that’s the nature of live TV … and that’s the pleasure of it. You never know. I stand there waiting – just like you guys do watching at home – when is this going to go off the rail? But when it happens, it’s real emotion. And it’s fascinating to be part of it, and in my case to be a bit of the ringmaster, to try to get it back on track. Sometimes I think there was some lasting ill will. (Laughs) I don’t think everybody patched it up and lived happily ever after. But at the end of the day, it is a celebrity ballroom competition so come on, take a deep breath and count to 10.
And, take your money and be happy.
(Laughs) Yeah, exactly. And realize that life isn’t that bad.
I think DWTS is such a hit because you and Brooke help it along by being such good co-hosts. Speaking of Brooke, does she ever get a pimple? She’s beautiful!
You get to see her when she’s all gussied up, but I’ve got to tell you, we have a script meeting on show days in my dressing room – the whole gang comes in, the producers, me, Brooke and the writer, and she comes in with her little baseball cap and her sweats on and looks absolutely stunning then!
Is Brooke fun to work with?
She is. She is such a pleasure. No drama. Very low key and fun. Very team oriented. We don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like sometimes on camera because of the nature of what we do. She’s got to be in her celebriquarium and I’m on the stage. We got to spend the day together when we announced the cast and had a wonderful time.
Your first co-host was Lisa Canning and then Samantha Harris. What happened to those two?
Lisa left after the dance off with Kelly and John O’Hurley. I don’t know the behind-the-scenes decision-making there. I don’t know Lisa was as comfortable on live TV maybe. With Samantha, she had an opportunity to be working more with Entertainment Tonight at the time, and I think that was around the time that Mary Hart may have been thinking about leaving and they increased her profile there, and then she, more recently has been on “Stars Earn Stripes.”
You’re such a happy-go-lucky guy on the show. It’s live TV, does anything every rattle you?
No. I don’t mean to sound glib, but I look forward to it, I love the adrenalin of it. I prefer being on live TV to doing taped television. DWTS is much easier for me to do than, for example, “America’s Funniest Videos,” which is taped. That show I love. We call it the annuity at my house because it goes on forever but in terms of the actual doing of it, live TV is definitely my preference.
I hate to put you on the spot, but the contestants on this season, who would be your top three?
Your presumption that you’re putting me on the spot assumes I’m going to answer the question. Why piss off the rest of the cast by picking a few? (Laughs)
I asked Jonathan Winters recently how it feels to be 86. So I want to know from you, how does it feel to be 57?
Well, considering the alternative … I actually feel, in a lot of ways, that I’m in better shape than I was when I was 30. This isn’t what I thought 57 would feel like. I thought I’d feel a little bit like a cooling ember. I don’t feel that way at all. As a matter of fact, I’m sitting talking to you after I had a training session at the gym. I love this time of my life. I love who my kids are as young adults, and certainly I have been fortunate with the way my career has gone, and Lois and I are having a wonderful time and are still as strong as ever. So it’s good.
At this point in your life, do you pick and choose your friends more carefully?
[Yes]. Life is too short and I don’t need the headaches anymore, and it’s more fun to hang with people who have less baggage and are low maintenance.
You think certain people have perfect lives but in reality nobody does, do they?
No. No not at all, and that’s what makes it all fascinating. It goes back to if everybody was on their best behavior on live TV, how boring it would be. How pissed would you be if you met the person with the perfect life and found out it was really perfect? I don’t want to hang out with them.
If you could have a do-over in your life, something you could take back and do it over again, what would it be?
Oh, that’s a really good question. I would not have hosted to 2008 Emmys. I would have gone with my gut instinct and said, “Great idea as a press release, lousy idea as an actual show.” (Laughs) They had the idea because it was the first year that they had a reality host category. Heidi, Jeff and Howie Mandell. My initial reaction when they came to me with it was: that’s like herding cats … different approaches and styles. So reluctantly I agreed to do it. And then unfortunately we had a producer who really didn’t offer anything, and kind of left us hanging so it was a singularly unpleasant experience. That would be my do-over. I would have politely passed and held my ground.
OK, here’s a pop culture question. Do you know who Honey Boo Boo is?
I do, only because my trainer in California told me about this kid, and I went on YouTube and was absolutely astounded.
Is she going to be doing DWTS in 15 years?
I would think it would have to happen in 15 minutes.
I’m going to give you a supreme compliment so hold on to something.
We think you are the sexiest man alive to woman over 50. How does that feel?
OHHHHH, thank you! That’s very flattering. It feels very flattering. The sexiest man and my name in the same sentence? … I’ll take it. (Laughs)
Posted on Huff/Post50
Rance Howard at 83 — 64-Year Veteran Character Actor, Father of Actors Ron and Clint — Talks Candidly About Keeping His Sons Grounded and Staying Upbeat in an Unpredictable Business
Veteran character actor Rance Howard is a happy man. Although he’s been to hundreds of auditions in his 64-year acting career and never quite achieved the superstardom status of his peers – Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, and John Wayne to name a few – he doesn’t look back with bitterness or resentment. He feels blessed.
The actor, who played Henry Boomhauer for two seasons in the television series “Gentle Ben” (1967-1969), isn’t exactly a household name but his face is one you’ve seen thousands of times having acted in almost 200 films and various television shows: “Bat Masterson,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “That Girl,” “The Virginian,” “Coach,” “Married…with Children,” “Ghost Whisper,” “ER “… and the list just goes on and on and on.
Howard’s sons — Ron, who played Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” for eight years and Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days” for six seasons; and Clint, who played Mark Wedloe on “Gentle Ben” for two seasons — have had their share of good fortune as child actors but when their acting careers took a left turn (Ron is now a successful Hollywood director and Clint is happy doing character roles), dad remained – as always – upbeat and philosophical.
Howard talks candidly about his career, what his early goals were (did he want to be a superstar?) and how he kept his wits about him as a character actor in an unstable, fickle business; what it was like raising two actor sons who had different levels of success in the business; what happened at home when the cameras weren’t rolling and what it was like for him working with the likes of Henry Fonda and Paul Newman.
You’ve been an actor for 64 years. That’s incredible. How early in your childhood did you know you wanted to be an actor?
Very early, when I was in the 7th grade. At that point I worked in a little play in a one-room schoolhouse where I was attending school and the bug bit me. My career started in 1948 when I went to New York and auditioned and was able to get a job in a children’s touring company doing children’s theater. That was my initiation to professional theater and when my career really started.
What was the first role that helped you get started either in film or in television?
One of the most exciting things that ever happened to me was when I auditioned and got in the touring company of a play called “Mister Roberts” with Henry Fonda. I played a character named Lindstrom. We toured about a year and a half hitting the major cities in the U.S. That was really, really exciting because it boosted my career even though I had been working for almost a year in children’s theater. This was huge step up. I got that role in 1950. That was really the thing that cemented my career and my life for the course I had charted.
Was Henry Fonda nice to you?
Oh, he was wonderful. We had a really good and interesting relationship on that tour. He loved to improvise little scenes just kind of off the cuff — like for instance, checking into a hotel. If I would be at the register, he would come up and start an argument saying he was really there first. And I would reply to that and we would have a pretty good little exchange going and we fooled a lot of people. (Laughs)
Are there any big stars that surprised you over the years?
While working on “Cool Hand Luke” with Paul Newman, I started out seeing him in the morning and saying, “Good morning, Mr. Newman.” He never acknowledged my greeting. In the evening I would say, “Good night, Mr. Newman.” At the very most he would give me a bit of a nod. I continued that for two or three days until finally he said to me, “I don’t fraternize.”
What were your early goals in your career as an actor? Did you want to be a superstar like Cary Grant or Rock Hudson or Humphrey Bogart?
That’s a really interesting question. When I initially started in drama school at the University of Oklahoma, I thought I would be a western singing cowboy like Roy Rogers or Gene Autry or Tex Ritter. And I had never even heard of New York or Broadway or stage productions that would run for two or three or four years. That was all new to me so actually the University of Oklahoma really introduced me to the stage and to theater so I became so enamored of the theater that I totally lost the idea of being a singing cowboy and wanted to really be a serious actor … but to answer your question, I never really had a projected goal in my mind. And now — I’ve been a professional actor for 64 years — looking back, I think if you’d have asked me that question 64 years ago, I would have thought by this time in my career in my life I would have been as big as Spencer Tracey, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Henry Fonda … the big ones. I just assumed that’s where I would go. Now, looking back and knowing now how tough the business is, I am so happy and gratified to have been able to do what I really love and even though I haven’t achieved the height that I would have thought I might, I wouldn’t change a thing. I love this business, and it’s been so good to me. It’s been a blessing to have been able to have that intent of being an actor, just surviving as an actor all my life and to be able to have done it. It’s just so gratifying.
Your oldest son Ron was a child actor also. When did you decide to get Ron into acting and was it easy to talk him into wanting to act when he was like five years old?
My late wife Jean was an actress. We started out in the business together. We had no intention of bringing Ron into the business. He sort of fell in. When the opportunity came up for him to play this part in a movie called “The Journey” with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, we didn’t know if we wanted him to do this because having been in the business about six years ourselves already, we knew the heartaches and the downfalls and the traps for adults, which are worse for children. So we talked about it for a long time before we decided, OK, we’ll do it. The director of the film was offering me a small part as a Russian soldier. They took the three of us over to Vienna Austria to be in this movie. I think Ron turned four just before we left for Vienna, Austria and he was just an absolute natural. Acting for him was like playtime. So after we finished “The Journey” and returned to New York we thought: we saved his money, it was a good start for his college education and maybe this is not a bad thing. We didn’t see anything harmful or detrimental in any way.
He was so precious as Opie in “The Andy Griffith Show.” You must have been around on the set a lot on TAGS.
I was there from the beginning from the time they did the pilot which was a spinoff of “The Danny Thomas Show.” I had been working in the business. At that point I had been in the Air Force in Special Services directing plays and variety shows so I had a real sense, if you will, of what was needed and what was required in helping Ron learn his dialog and working with him more of: what is the idea of this, what are you trying to say, what are you trying to express, more than: this is your dialog, these are your words and you have to learn them and say them. Ron was terrific. He had a great sense of drama and of timing and how to use emotion in a scene.
How did Ron get along with the cast at such a young age?
He won Andy’s heart and Don Knotts and the producer Aaron Ruben and the executive producer Sheldon Leonard. They loved Ron and he loved them in return … and Frances Bavier who played Aunt Bee. They were like his second family so for eight years he was very close to them. Going to work with him was a joy. There was no having to push him or prod him or coerce him into working. He looked forward to it … the very same way with Clint.
Did you become friends with Andy?
Oh, yes. Andy and I became very good friends.
How did you feel about his passing?
It was really a sad day when I heard that. I talked with Andy, I knew he was failing. It wasn’t really a great surprise. We used to talk on the phone, and I miss not having Andy around, being able to call him and say, “Hey Andy, how’s the weather down there.”
You were in several episodes of “Gentle Ben” which starred your son Clint. How was it working with him on set and then going home and telling him to clean his room?
(Laughs) . Working with Clint was a real joy. Clint and I were living in an apartment hotel in Miami, Florida. We had maid service. I functioned as his father, mother, dialogue coach, playmate, chauffeur, cook, and best buddy. He was eight years old. We worked a five day schedule on the series. His role, Mark, was very physically and mentally demanding. He was also required to attend school with the studio teacher three hours a day. He had a big responsibility, learning dialogue, staying in good physical condition with a regular exercise regimen. What did he do for fun and relaxation? He was on a Little League Baseball team. When we returned home from a day on the set, the responsibilities he was carrying made household chores seem trivial so we didn’t dwell much on room cleaning.
Your sons seem like such gentlemen as adults. Acting is a very hard profession, very competitive; the ups and downs are tough. How did you keep your boys grounded when they were growing up?
That’s a very good question. I think my late wife, their mother Jean, and I … we were both like depression babies. Our parents really felt the depression and it had really rubbed off on Jean and I so we were both really frugal people.
We had a dream, and so actually I think to answer your question, when both boys started acting, they became stars. I was a character actor. I would do a “Death Valley Days” here and a “Lone Ranger” there but they were way out earning me. So we could have taken their money and really have lived it up. We could have gone to Beverly Hills or wherever we wanted to and probably leased a mansion to house our family. We chose not to do that. We chose not to live on what the boys could afford, but what I could afford. We drove the kind of car that I could afford. The boys didn’t have a lot of money … maybe a quarter a week allowance. I tried to get them to do really honest work like mowing the lawn, taking out trash, cleaning up things. Jean and I both strived to get them to do that so they would appreciate sweat on the brow.
What’s the downside for child actors in general?
I think the first thing that happens is that the parents’ heads swells up. And then the child suddenly becomes the family support. His earning is supporting the family and this is very tragic because the child suddenly realizes this and has the responsibility of going to work and doing that stuff and supporting the family because the family has moved into strata that is really above them. We kept our family to the living standard that I could afford. I think that had a lot to do with their level-headed attitude and their work ethic. As children, they were never treated as stars.
Show business can be very competitive. Did you feel there was any competition with the boys in any way?
The boys are five years apart. They were never really competitive with each other. Ron was the big brother and Clint was the little brother. They had a great relationship. They still have a great relationship.
Ron of course played Opie and went on to play Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days.
Clint starred on “Gentle Ben” but then his acting career slowed down somewhat. Was that hard for him?
I think it was to some extent. That’s a cruel thing that happens to kids in Hollywood. One day – maybe for several years they’ve been stars and then suddenly the series ends, they hit the awkward age, their teens – 15, 16, 17 – and production companies don’t want to hire a 15- or 16-year-old because that age range of child falls under child labor laws and they can only be on the set for nine hours and work for six hours and have to have three house of schools, so production companies find an 18-year-old who can look 15 and they use the 18-year-old so they solve all the problems that children cause a production company in a film or television series. After Gentle Ben ended, Clint worked on films and guest-starred on television. He continued to work almost throughout his teen years but to really answer your question, it becomes a problem for children when they have been working and getting kind of the star treatment, making a lot of money, getting a lot of publicity and suddenly it all dries up and there is nothing. That’s kind of a tough thing.
How did Clint process that when the acting gigs slowed down for him? Clint did very well. And the reason he did very well is that he was able to do roles in films and television. Clint was doing an exciting movie of the week and a film here and a television show here so Clint, in his growing up, was really not faced with being totally unwanted or not being able to get work. He continued to get work.
Did your sons ever get picked on much when they were growing up because they were child actors? If so, how did you and your wife handle that?
Jean and I did not try to handle the boys’ actions and reactions with their peers. If either of them came to us with a problem, we would explain that being in the public eye can cause jealousy and the best thing was to be open and friendly, try to understand and never become fearful. One time at an out of town basketball game when Ron had been fouled and was preparing to make a free throw, the crowd started chanting, “Opie!, Opie, Opie!!!” There referee motioned for Ron to wait. After awhile he blew his whistle, gesturing for the crowd to stop. They did. Ron stepped up to the line and made both shots.
Ron has been a very successful director and I love it that he has included you and his brother in several of his films. Was that easy or hard to take direction from your son?
Oh, it was easy. To begin with, he is a very good director. He is excellent. An actor is always looking for a good director. 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.
Most people can’t go to work with their grown children and watch them do their job, but you were in four of my favorite Ron Howard films: “Cocoon,” “Parenthood,” “Apollo 13″ and” A Beautiful Mind.” When you were in those movies and he was directing them, did you always agree with his vision or did you offer him advice?
If it was anything that pertained to me, I might question him or say what do you think about this or how about this? But I didn’t offer suggestions unless they were solicited. If Ron came to me and said, “Hey dad, what do you think about this?” and I would tell him but I didn’t stand on the set and offer suggestions.
Your granddaughter – Ron’s daughter Bryce Dallas Howard – played Hilly Holbrook in “The Help.” I was blown away by her performance. She’s a third generation “Howard” actor. How proud were you of her in that film?
Very! I have always been proud of Bryce. She is such a hard worker. From the time she was probably in junior high school or high school, she knew that’s what she wanted to do so she took voice lessons and she took dance lessons and she made an effort to get in any play that was going on in school. She’s like a really good carpenter or a good plumber or a good electrician who really knows their trade and can do anything you need, anything you want. A good carpenter can build it. She is that kind of an actress.
Acting can be a heartbreaking career because it doesn’t always go well for a long period of time. Were you nervous about your granddaughter becoming an actress because of the ups and downs of the business or did you encourage it?
I didn’t necessarily encourage it but I didn’t discourage it. This is what she wanted to do so I wouldn’t try to talk her out of it. To give you an example, I remember at NYU she was doing a play called “Hamletmachine.” In this play it was necessary – at one point during the play for about 10 or 15 minutes – everyone in the cast was totally nude on stage. So I remember Bryce’s mother, Cheryl, almost putting her foot down and saying no you can’t do that. I remember saying to Cheryl, “This is college. This is a learning process. Let her do that. If she can do that it will get rid of all inhibitions and she will never be inhibited by anything she has to do on the stage or in film.” So Cheryl went along with that. And Bryce did it. I went to see it, and there she is, an 18, 19-year-old girl stark naked. (Laughs)
What are you doing now? Are you still acting?
Yes. I just finished a nice little cameo role on the film “The Lone Ranger.” Johnny Depp plays Tonto and Army Hammer plays the Lone Ranger. It’s going to be great entertainment.
Do you still have to audition for parts after all these years?
Yes, as a matter of fact I did audition for that part … that doesn’t bother me. I really enjoy the whole process. I like auditions because it is an opportunity to act. I don’t look at it like I’m going in and will be judged and tested. I look at it like: this is an opportunity to perform. I look forward to auditions. I don’t always get the part, but I usually do. When I give a really good audition, I walk away saying: that was really a good audition, I really enjoyed that. I don’t care if I get the part or not. I feel like I’ve already done it.
You’ve acted in so many TV shows: “That Girl,”" Bonanza,” “The Waltons,” “Happy Days,” ”Little House on the Prairie,” “Laverne and Shirley, “Seinfeld” … the list goes on forever. Did you have to audition for all of those parts?
Most of them I did. You mentioned “Seinfeld”. I specifically remember auditioning for “Seinfeld.” I did two “Seinfelds.” I played a blind man one time and I played a farmer another time who had a daughter. So I remember when I auditioned for the farmer, I had a really ratty, raggedy old overalls and a shirt that belonged to my dad and some old farmers shoes and a beat-up straw hat, and I went in to audition. I auditioned for Larry David – who was a hands-on producer – and I was auditioning with Jerry Seinfeld [in front of Larry David]. I did the scene and Jerry Seinfeld looked at Larry David and said, ‘Now that’s commitment.’ (Laughs) When I do an audition, I really prepare for it. I really get up for it. I totally enjoy it.
When you were auditioning with Jerry Seinfeld, did Jerry know you are Ron Howard’s father?
If he knew it, he just had to somehow know it on his own because I never walk into an audition and say, ‘Hi, I’m Ron Howard’s dad.’ I never play the Ron Howard card. I don’t trade on his name at all.
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