- The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family. By Ron Howard and Clint Howard. HarperCollins. $34.99.
The words "former child star" are all too often connected to has-beens and horror stories: frustration at best, tragedy at worst.
But some young actors manage to overcome the many challenges, temptations and problems and make the transition to a successful adult career in show business.
Here's something that might seem unusual: a Hollywood family memoir that isn't full of nasty gossip and recriminations but manages to be interesting, informative and even touching.
Brothers Ron Howard and Clint Howard co-authored this memoir about growing up happily as the sons of jobbing actors. "The boys" also went into show business, survived, and thrived.
One of the reasons for this, as they are at pains to point out, is the lessons they learned from their parents, both now dead, to whom this book serves as a loving homage.
Oklahoma-born Rance and Jean Howard were sensible people and were willing to work around their sons' careers when the boys found success early. We learn a lot about the unglamorous side of the business for those who aren't superstars and how the family managed to survive.
Jean pretty much gave up her acting career and she and Rance were frequently driving the boys to auditions and jobs, advising them and - especially in Rance's case - working with them. Rance took a five per cent manager's fee on his boys' income - modest by Hollywood standards - and unlike some showbiz parents, the Howards didn't steal from their kids or treat them as meal tickets.
Ron Howard's acting credits from childhood included the film adaptation of the musical The Music Man and the hit TV show The Andy Griffith Show, on which he played Andy's son Opie. As a young adult, he acted in John Wayne's last movie, The Shootist and was the star of another successful sitcom, Happy Days as Richie Cunningham. But from an early age, spending long hours on sets, he developed an interest in the nuts and bolts of filmmaking.
He made home movies - many starring Clint - and eventually became a major Hollywood director whose films have included Parenthood, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, the last of which won four Oscars including two for Howard as co-producer and director. He co-founded Imagine Entertainment and is a major Hollywood player - but still has an enviable reputation as one of the nicest guys in show business.
His younger brother Clint didn't have as prominent a career but also kept busy. Clint starred alongside a bear in the TV series Gentle Ben and did many TV guest spots. Occasionally they worked together.
Although he considered moving into sports journalism, Clint made the transition to busy adult character actor.
He has hundreds of credits in film and television, including roles in many of his brother's films as well as everything from various instalments of the Star Trek franchise and Seinfeld to the Austin Powers movies to low-budget horror flicks.
A highlight is the account of Ron's directorial debut on Grand Theft Auto (1977) for legendary B-movie mogul Roger Corman. It was something of a family affair. Ron and Rance collaborated on the script and both, along with Clint, acted in it - and Ron's wife Cheryl (to whom he is still married, 47 years and counting) did the catering.
The back and forth of Ron and Clint's perspectives works well, with Ron, not surprisingly, dominating.
I did have a couple of minor frustrations. One is that the Howards are such engaging writers and their careers so interesting it's hard not to want to read more. Clint, especially, has had such a wide variety of work that more stories would have been welcome.
The other is that they are so determinedly nice. It's not that they need to be dishing dirt, but it's hard not to think there must have been a bit more drama along the way.
Elsewhere, I've read they differ politically - Ron is a Democrat, Clint a Republican - and while this obviously hasn't hindered their personal relationship, it's something that could have been explored.
There are occasional shadows. Both brothers had initial difficulties moving from child actor to adult performer. Clint drifted into drug abuse (he eventually recovered). Less seriously, but still painfully, Ron was tormented by what he calls "Opie-shaming".
On the nostalgic 1950s-set sitcom Happy Days, while Ron was nominally the lead, Henry Winkler's "cool" secondary character Fonzie became a breakout sensation.
Howard's ego was bruised, but he never blamed Winkler and they remain close. Winkler is godfather to Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron's daughter, who provides a thoughtful foreword.
This memoir is refreshingly free of pretension and ego and provides insight from multiple perspectives - child star, filmmaker, jobbing actor, and family member - that make it eminently worthwhile..