Ron Howard reveals why anxiety over 'Happy Days' character Fonzie led to hair loss: ‘I kept everything inside'

by 24USATVOct. 12, 2021, 6 p.m. 18
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Ron Howard was so worried about Henry Winkler’s "The Fonz" eclipsing his character Richie Cunningham during the early run of "Happy Days" that he developed a skin condition and started losing his hair — as ABC toyed with renaming the show "Fonzie’s Happy Days."

"The biggest stressor of all was Fonzie. Not Henry [Winkler], but Fonzie. It did not escape my notice that as the season went on, the Fonz was getting more and more screen time," Howard, 67, writes in "The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family," in which he and his brother, actor Clint Howard, reminisce about their careers.

"I didn’t handle my stress particularly well," he writes. "I probably would have benefited from seeing a psychotherapist … Instead, I kept everything inside. Then I started breaking out in eczema rashes all over my body, most acutely on my eyelids … And my hair started thinning. Looking at the men on both sides of my family, I knew it was inevitable … But it started coming out in alarming clumps during this time."

It all worked out. Series creator Garry Marshall told Ron he wouldn’t change the show’s title if he "didn’t support it" (he didn’t) and "Happy Days" enjoyed a fruitful run from 1974 to 1984, spawning two classic spinoffs ("Mork & Mindy" and "Laverne & Shirley") and one turkey ("Joanie Loves Chachi"), while bonding Howard and Winkler as lifelong friends. (They reunited for the 1982 big-screen comedy "Night Shift," which Ron directed.)

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"The Boys" unfolds in a breezy first-person narrative as Ron and Clint, 62, recall growing up with their parents, actors Rance and Jean Howard, and the brothers’ entrees into Hollywood at very early ages. The bulk of the memoir encompasses their television careers.

Ron was only 6 years old when he rose to fame as Opie Taylor on top-ranked sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show," which chronicled life in folksy Mayberry, N.C., and ran from 1960-68.

Co-star Andy Griffith was in "genuine pain" as his marriage to his first wife Barbara was "unraveling," he writes.

"He came back from Christmas break one season with his hand all taped up. He was blunt about what happened: ‘I got drunk, I got mad, and I put my fist through a door.'"

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As for Jim Nabors: "Jim, while private about his private life, was not closeted. He didn’t pretend to date women or insist he wasn’t gay … The crew, unfortunately, was not as enlightened. Listening to their on-set chatter, I heard a word I didn’t know: homo. That’s what they called Jim behind his back, and not with any hint of kindness."

The memoir also features brief forays into some of the brothers’ early movies — but stops short of Ron talking in any detail about his successful directorial career (including "Willow," "Parenthood," "Apollo 13," "Frost/Nixon" and "Hillbilly Elegy").

He does, though, write about how, on the set of the 1973 George Lucas comedy "American Graffiti," when he was 18, his 25-year-old co-star, Cindy Williams (later to star with Penny Marshall on "Laverne & Shirley"), schooled him in the art of smooching.

"She sensed, correctly, that her eighteen-year-old acting partner was inexperienced at kissing scenes and a bundle of nerves about performing them," he writes. " ‘We can’t kiss for the first time on camera,’ she said. ‘We better practice.’ With the professionalism of Hollywood’s intimacy coordinators … Cindy taught me how to make out convincingly for the camera without overstepping. She was not interested in me romantically, nor I in her. Cindy performed this service out of generosity, saving me from embarrassment … "

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Ron also describes, in cringeworthy detail, how he told his mother about his teenage urges.

"I was used to Dad’s forthrightness and imperviousness to so-called taboos. So I thought it was perfectly okay to inform Mom of my nocturnal emissions and my more conscious bedroom activities, and to ask her if this was all normal, and, if so, if I was going about it the right way … Mom literally put her hands to her ears, horrified to be put in this position. Speaking in a booming ‘La-la-la, I can’t hear you!’ voice to drown out any further disgusting revelations that I might have been sharing, she said, " ‘You’re going to have to wait until your dad gets home to talk about that. Ask him, not me!’ "

He did. And here’s what Rance told him: "Some people call it j–king off. But masturbation is the actual term. It’s all very normal. It’s not dirty. Don’t worry about it."

Clint’s biggest revelation about his time on "Gentle Ben" (1967-69) concerns his ursine co-star, Bruno: "The only negative … was that he smelled. He also took prodigious dumps due to his equally prodigious diet."

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Clint also candidly recalls his heavy pot smoking, drinking and descent into heavier drug use. "I tried to get sober a few times, the first in 1984," he writes, noting he marks his first day of sobriety as June 14, 1991.

"I opened up the Yellow Pages and found a listing for Beverly Glen Hospital, which offered a twenty-eight-day in-patient program for treating drug and alcohol dependency … Mom and Dad did their best to help me … I needed a few tries before recovery took.

"Ron, bless him, consistently cast me in his movies throughout my using years."

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