Book Review—The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard
I’ve been a Ron Howard fan since I was a kid watching Nick at Nite episodes of Happy Days with my grandmother. What I didn’t know, and what I find fascinating about memoirs, is the story behind the story. With his brother Clint, a character actor, they tell their origin story and the origin story of their actor parents, Rance and Jean Howard. More than a memoir, The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family, is a love letter—brother to brother and sons to dearly departed parents.
What struck me about Rance and Jean Howard was their selflessness, their ability to see the talents of their children and recognize that the odds of their children doing well in entertainment was probably higher than their own. There’s no resentment, no jealousy, just a straight-forward evaluation of the situation and context, and the desire for the greatest chances of success to be the focus in the family. They were a daring duo, for the lives they wanted to create as artists themselves and for the opportunities they wanted their children to have in an industry that is often riddled with rejection, betrayal, and a me-first attitude. It was also a lovely surprise to learn that both Rance and Jean continued their work as artists throughout their lives and returned to a focus on their own acting careers in their golden years.
While Ron Howard is a Hollywood A-lister and has been for most of his life, he lays down the hard truths of his career—how often he felt rejected by the industry, how many times he could have given up, and how he took an enormous leap to bet on himself as a director at the height of his popularity as an actor. While now it’s common to see actors move to work behind the camera as directors and producers, that wasn’t always the case. Rather than pursuing acting roles, Ron Howard followed his heart on an uncertain and uncharted path and turned all of his attention to directing. His success was far from guaranteed, but he never looked back. He knew what he wanted his life and career to be, and he went for it. The array of stars he’s worked with and the iconic projects he’s created are nothing short of spectacular.
Clint Howard’s road was rocky. After early success as a child actor, he fell on hard times personally, facing addiction and wrestling with self-worth. He speaks candidly about his struggles, so candidly that I often found my eyes tearing up, rooting for him to heal and recognize his talent. It couldn’t have been easy to see his older brother happily in love and thriving in his chosen career. It couldn’t have been easy for Ron Howard to see Clint making very different choices in life with difficult consequences. And yet, like his parents, Clint showed no jealousy or animosity. There was just more love and admiration, in both directions, between them as brothers.
The loss of their parents is told with as much candor, grace, and humor as the rest of the memoir. It’s clear how much they miss their parents and how much gratitude and love survives in their absence. They could have kept these very private stories and lessons to themselves, or relegated them to a magazine article or two. Instead, they put together their lives and the lives of their parents in this beautiful book that will certainly be read for decades by students and fans of film and television history, and as an example of how to have a good life in Hollywood.