Andy Griffith was Ron Howard's "Pa" as TV life became real life for the two actors

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Famed director and former TV star Ron Howard has written his own tribute for his on-screen “Pa” Andy Griffith who died at age 86 on July 3; while news networks reported the same day that the TV icon “has already been buried on his family farm on Roanoke Island.”

In the end, “The Andy Griffith Show” was about a father who enjoys fishing trips with his son, Opie (Ron Howard), and those quiet evenings on the front porch in Mayberry, North Carolina, where Opie would test his father’s parenting skills season after season and fans loved it. In fact, the show’s theme music, “The Fishin’ Hole,” seemed to mirror this close bond between Andy and his son Opie; while Ron Howard explains that it was also real life mirroring TV life with a real bond of love and respect between the two actors playing father and son. Today, two bronze statues – portraying Andy and Opie gone fishin’ from that opening scene of the Sixties “The Andy Griffith Show” – reminds fans in both Pullen Park in Raleigh, N.C., and at the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy, N.C., that these two TV stars are both beloved as father and son in the hearts and minds of those who appreciated the real depth of feeling that Andy conveyed as Opie’s “Pa.” This bond also translated into the episode “Opie the Birdman” being ranked No. 24 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In turn, TV Guide also ranked The Andy Griffith Show ninth on its list of the “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.”

Also, this was first-class TV because - says an 84-year-old fan in Florence, Oregon, named Betty - “it was created with love.” Betty also told Huliq during a July 3 interview on the day Andy Griffith passed that “I always watched The Andy Griffith Show with my children” back in those early days of television when “the allure, I guess, was this father Andy being so personal on TV with his son Opie. It was an honest show,” she added.

Ron Howard pays tribute to his TV Dad

The late great co-star of The Andy Griffith Show was the Emmy-award winning actor Don Knotts who played Barney Fife on the show. Knotts told TV Guide in an interview that what made the show work was “Andy being genuine as a father and friend. Andy was the real deal,” stressed Knotts who was also beloved by fans.

In turn, now Ron Howard as the real life “Opie Taylor” took on the task of paying tribute to his former on-screen TV father July 3 with a moving story that was released nationwide; appearing in The New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times and also featured this Fourth of July on daytime TV news and talk shows.

One TV critic, who was remembering the life of Andy Griffith on a televised talk show July 4th said “it’s remarkable that we have a TV and movie superstar such as Ron Howard paying tribute to another TV superstar who just happened to be his real life mentor when he played the role of Opie, and also a real life father figure with Ron Howard staying close to Andy until the very end.”

Thus, the July 4th headline for the New York Daily News states “Ron Howard says co-star Andy Griffith was a leader, a mentor and coach,” with the story being reported by Ron Howard who played son Opie on this show that helped launch his successful career as director and “son” who often called on “Andy,” his TV “Pa,” for his sage advice.

At the same time, a TV Guide history of “The Andy Griffith Show,” states that Ron Howard played Sheriff Andy Taylors’s son Opie from 1960 to 1968; beginning when he was just six-years-old while Howard says he was actually age five when the pilot aired in 1959.

Also, TV Guide notes how Ron Howard again appeared with Griffith in the 1986 TV movie “Return to Mayberry,” and last worked with him on behalf of President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and on an online political comedy sketch on the “Funny or Die” website.

In addition, fans of Howard’s stayed with the adult “Opie” when he moved on to become one of Hollywood’s top movie directors and TV producers; with such hits as “Splash,” “Cocoon,” “Parenthood,” “Apollo 13,” and “A Beautiful Mind,” that earned Howard four Oscars in 2002 including Best Director and Best Picture.

For his nationwide media released tribute to his on-screen father, Andy, Howard shared these memories: “We stayed in touch via the phone. My dad spoke with him about six weeks ago and Andy was upbeat and enjoying his life and hoping to find a part that he could do and be creatively engaged. Occasionally I would ask for advice. Andy had a keen sense of story.”

As for when they first met, Howard says: “Looking back, I barely remember meeting Andy because I was 5. But I remember that first episode. It was a pilot of a spinoff of “The Danny Thomas Show.” The city guy was stuck in a speed trap and made to understand and appreciate the charms of Mayberry. And I was playing the sheriff’s son, Opie Taylor. I think there was an honesty that Andy demonstrated. He could convey the humor, the foibles, and the particulars of rural America without demeaning it.”

Howard on what Andy taught him as an actor

Those who viewed Ron Howard remembering his late TV-father and real life friend and mentor had watered eyes both yesterday, July 3 when Andy Griffith passed, and today July 4th with dozens of TV tributes being broadcast featuring Howard remembering someone who was much more than a TV co-star. Andy was, say other members of the cast, “like a real Pa to Opie when the camera was both on and off.

For instance, Howard writes how “Andy didn’t try to teach acting lessons. I think Andy observed that my father and I had a great relationship. He saw that my dad was a natural acting coach and modeled the Opie-Andy relationship on what he saw between my dad and me. He later said that.”

Also, Howard writes how he “learned so much from the show and the environment he created. It was less about the specifics of comedy timing, although he taught me about that, and professional comportment, which he also taught me about. It was really about the joy of the creative process. You could have fun on a set. You could be playful. You could tell jokes. You could laugh at other people’s jokes and you could still get your work done at the best-caliber TV show.”

Howard also remembers how Andy “really helped create and sustain a collaborative, open, creative environment. It felt safe to say what you thought. Good new ideas were celebrated by all. I’ve tried to carry that tone and that atmosphere with me throughout my life.”

Life lessons learned from the late, great Andy Griffith

What fans saw on their TV screens come each Sunday evening back during the golden age of TV in the Sixties was the “real deal” when it came to that warmth that Andy Griffith shared with his co-stars; including his on-screen son Opie.

For example, Howard writes in his July 3 tribute to Griffith that there “was also a very unpretentious kind of humility there. He was famous for turning to the audience at the end of a show — or even early on — and saying, ‘I appreciate it and good night.’ A few years back, I realized that he really understood those words and he meant them. He never expected to be given anyone’s respect. He wanted to earn it. And he appreciated the opportunity to earn it. He knew he was a country boy who grew up and was making a great living doing exactly what he wanted to do.”

And, just like a good father, Howard recalls how Griffith was a good coach on how a boy must learn to navigate life into adulthood. Given what Griffith taught son Opie, it’s no wonder that Ron Howard is also a great father and movie director today who is known to have “real heart,” that his friend Andy.

Howard also reflected in his tribute for Andy Griffith show as a young Opie: “If I wasn’t paying attention, he would say, ‘Pay attention, Ronnie.’ He was an adult and a mentor in that way. More like a great coach.”

Image source of the opening scene for “The Andy Griffith Show” with Andy going fishing with son Opie, played by Ron Howard. The show was first televised by CBS between 1960 and 1968, and today is still broadcast on many retro-TV channels; while all of the TV episodes are also available on DVD. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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