Ron Howard used Happy Days as a chance to shed his ''Opie'' image

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Ron Howard was America's boy-next-door as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days (1974). He was the kind of guy most mothers would love for their daughters to date and the guy no dad could hate.

It seemed like Howard was the perfect choice for playing the boy-next-door role, which he'd essentially started practicing during his time on The Andy Griffith Show (1960) as a young boy.

He wasn't just little Opie; he was Richie too.

He rose to fan-favorite status alongside The Fonz (Henry Winkler), with his clean-cut, wholesome and responsible personality that was meant to embody a teenager in the '50s.

Howard had faith in Happy Days even from the beginning, but like his character, he felt responsible for his Happy Days family and their success.

During a 1975 interview with The Tampa Times, Howard said that one of the first major changes Happy Days made was focusing more on character development, rather than the gimmicks, although Fonzie was a pretty good gimmick to lean into. 

According to the interview, the first two seasons of Happy Days focused on setting the right tone to reflect the 1950s. By season three the actors were able to start focusing on what made the character, rather than what era they were in.

"It's still a '50s show, but the players are getting better parts," Howard said. "The writers did a lot of research to get the right feel of the 1950s. They gave us a list of expressions to use, had us looking in yearbooks, watching shows such as Father Knows Best and Beaver, and the clothes had to match the era."

With the development of the series came the refinement of Howard. During his time on the series, he was able to show off and practice his writing and directing abilities outside of the series. Howard found success in pretty much everything he's done — from directing to acting, writing, and producing. He was a big success at 21, and he's an even bigger success today at 69.

Part of the reason for the series' success, in Howard's mind, was the chemistry between him and his co-stars, as well as the research done by the writers and producers. 

By the time the third season was on-air, his title as "Little Opie" was finally starting to wear off among viewers across the country. He said for a long time, people would call him "Opie" when they saw him — even as a 16-year-old and even as a 20-year-old.

It wasn't until his role as Richie that he began to grow into Ron Howard, a more mature and grown-up actor.

"People are beginning to call me Ron now instead of Ronny and I think it's because they are becoming aware that I have grown up and am beyond the Opie image," Howard said.

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