Director Ron Howard Was Humiliated by Bette Davis on a Movie Set: ‘I Popped a Couple of Tums’

One of Ron Howard ‘s earliest directing projects was a film – making career for television Skyward.

As Howard told the American Television Archive in 2006, making the film was an amazing experience for him.

What was difficult was directing the legendary actor Bette Davis, initially because of how awesome it was to work with one of the greatest actors in film history.

But also, secondly, because Howard felt she didn’t like it.

Director Ron Howard in 1980 and actor Bette Davis in 1970
Director Ron Howard in 1980 | Archives of Michael Ochs / Getty Images and actor Bette Davis in 1970 | Keystone / Getty Images

How Bette Davis was cast in a Ron Howard movie

From left: 'Skyward' author Anson Williams and director Ron Howard in a scene from 'Happy Days'
From left: ‘Skyward’ author Anson Williams and director Ron Howard in a scene from ‘Happy Days’ | Walt Disney Television through Getty Images Photo Archives

It was 1980 and Ron Howard had left the popular sitcom Happy days to pursue his interest in management. That year he started working on it Skyward.

Based on a story he wrote Happy days co-star Anson Williams, the television film was about a flight instructor, played by Bette Davis, which shows a young girl with a disability how to get a plane.

“Anson Williams was passionate about Bette Davis playing the role of this flight instructor,” Howard told the American Television Archive. “This is the story of this former flight instructor who happily agrees to teach a paraplegic girl to fly.”

Howard explained that Skyward “It really was the piece of film that helped to convince a studio that I could direct features.”

Bette Davis did not hide her displeasure with Ron Howard

Bette Davis, 1980
Bette Davis, 1980 | Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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Bette Davis, who died in 1989, was less than happy to work with new actor Gilstrap or the film’s director, according to Ron Howard. In fact, it took some time for the new filmmaker to warm up the silver screen star for him.

“I spoke [Davis] on the phone a bit, and she kept calling me ‘Mr. Howard. ‘And I kept saying,’ Call me Ron. ‘”

Howard remembered his curt response. “She said, ‘No, I’ll tell you Mr Howard until I decide if I like you or not’ and I hung up. “She continued to shout‘ Mr. Howard ’through predictions.

When the crew got a job, Howard said, “We started filming that first day and Bette Davis was a little hard on me.”

Bette David thought Ron Howard was ‘a baby’

The director, who was born in Oklahoma in 1954, looked up to the first day of filming in Dallas in full dress and tie because, he said, “I thought that was what the famous directors of the 40s did, that’s what Bette Davis would have liked. ”

He walked up to Davis, who was in a mock plane ready to be filmed.

Ron Howard, 2015
Ron Howard, 2015 | Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images

“So, the first day of a shoe, I’m here in a jacket and tie, it’s 100 degrees before 8 o’clock in the morning, and she’s in this joke, this little aerobatic plane, and I walk up to her, ”he said.

At that point, Howard said, Davis embarrassed the team and the team.

“She turns around and says, loud enough for the team to hear, ‘Oh! I was so horrified! It’s you! I saw this baby walking towards me and thought about what the world could this baby have to say to me? ‘

“And the team laughed, and I laughed,” he said. “And everyone laughed, and I put a hook or two and went in and gave her the instructions and she was fine.”

Davis finally came around

Bette Davis, 1980
Bette Davis, 1980 | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

It took a while for Davis to warm up to the director, and she showed she was grateful with a pat on the back, so to speak.

“Later in the day, I gave her another guide and she was upset about it. I said, ‘Well, try it’ and she agreed. And she liked it and she said strongly, ‘You’re right, you’re right, it makes the scene a lot better. ‘

“And about 4 hours, I folded and said‘ Ms. Davis, you can go home now. ‘”

The Oscar winner responded twice, finally showing her approval for Howard.

“She said, ‘Very good, Ron, I’ll see you tomorrow! ‘It was very important that I called him Ron and not Mr Howard. “

Davis didn’t stop there. “And,” Howard made sure to note, “she kept me on the **. So that was the big iceberg. ”

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