Clint Howard abides. He’s spent his whole career, which in his case means his whole life, in the shadow of his more famous brother Ron Howard. He’s been derided at times as the Roger Clinton of the Howard clan by nitwits who don’t notice that he’s had every bit as busy a showbiz career as Ron, even if you remove the numerous credits he gained working for Ron.
But discerning fans, otherwise known as nerds, recognize that Clint Howard is a character-acting treasure. Back in 2011, TR writer Brian Heiler listed his picks for “The 10 Greatest Nerd Roles of Clint Howard,” which included such essentials as his turns on Fringe and in Rock n’ Roll High School, or in the teen shocker Evilspeak, or, of course, as Balok in the original Star Trek’s “The Corbomite Maneuver.” But we’ve decided that a sequel list of cool Clint credits is warranted, just because, well, Clint Howard.
10. Leon (Not The Professional)
Clint Howard’s knack for scene-stealing goes all the way back to the beginning of his acting career. Like, all the way back.
Those of us who feel that, with more racial and ethnic diversity, an arthouse cinema and a decent comic book store, Andy Griffith’s idyllic Mayberry would be a pretty fair approximation of an earthly paradise remember C. Howard well for his wordless recurring role as “Leon.” A local kid in a cowboy hat, Leon would regularly wreck Barney’s stakeout cover by courteously offering him a bite of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Sometimes it seemed that whatever criminal activity Barney was trying to foil was a less serious matter for Mayberry’s finest than the neglect that allowed a kid as little as Leon to wander the streets alone.
9. Dell’s Gentle Ben
Getting depicted in a comic book is a source of serious nerd cred. Clint Howard had that covered before he was in junior high.
This distinction came courtesy of the Dell Comics five-issue tie-in with Gentle Ben, the Ivan Tors TV series on which Howard co-starred with the title bear, from 1967 to 1969. Not quite as classic a role as Opie Taylor, perhaps (and Ron also got to be a cover boy on Dell’s Andy Griffith Show tie-in). But then, Opie never had an airboat-riding bear for a best pal; he had to settle for Johnny Paul.
8.Tex Murphy: Overseer
Then again, a presence in video games is a sure way to nerd admiration. Clint Howard, reputedly a big-time World of Warcraft enthusiast in his private life, also has “Video Game Performer” on his list of credits.
Clint Howard pops up, as a characteristically squirrely exposition-leaking mutant informant, in this 1998 game, the fifth in the series of tongue-in-cheek noir intrigues featuring the title gumshoe, set in post-apocalyptic San Francisco. He can be seen at 19:12 in the clip above.
7. Playmates Balok
But maybe even depiction in a comic book or a video game isn’t, for nerds, quite on the level of depiction as an action figure. Clint Howard has that nailed, too.
The top spot on Heiler’s 2011 list of Clint Howard gold was, very rightly, his role as Balok, captain of the gargantuan space ship Fesarius encountered by the Enterprise in “The Corbomite Manuever,” an early first-season episode of the original Star Trek (it was the first regular-season episode produced after the pilots, though not the first one aired). In 1998, Playmates Toys released this three figure set in honor of this episode, with Kirk, the scary “Balok Puppet” (which spoke in the menacing voice of Ted Cassidy in the episode) and the genial real Balok, as played by a six-or-seven-ish Clint Howard, proffering a cup of his beloved beverage tranya.
6. Colonel Hathi’s Son
Around the same period that Clint Howard was having his childlike tones weirdly overdubbed by veteran voice actor Walker Edmiston (the voice of Enik the Sleestak on Land of the Lost, among countless other credits) for the role of Balok on “The Corbomite Maneuver,” he was, in turn, providing the speaking voice for the young elephant in Disney’s 1967 The Jungle Book. Mowgli the Man-Cub makes pals with the calf, the offspring of J. Pat O’Malley’s blustery Colonel Hathi, when he joins in the march of the military-style pachyderms.
As noted in the previous list, Clint Howard also provided the voice of Roo in Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons until the mid-’70s. Presumably by that time, Roo was starting to sound a little too big for Kanga’s pouch.
5. “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes”
There haven’t been a lot of title roles in Clint Howard’s career. But he’s The Boy in question in this 1971 segment of the horror anthology series Night Gallery, adapted by Rod Serling from the short story by Margaret St. Clair. Night Gallery didn’t have the highest batting average, but this episode, directed by John Badham, was one of the program’s better, eerier efforts.
Howard plays Herbie Bittman, a pint-sized prognosticator with his own TV show. Herbie’s predictions are very specific, and they always come true. But one day the nipper Nostradamus says he just doesn’t feel like doing the taping…
Along with Balok, this is one of the highlights of Clint Howard’s kid acting. His Herbie is sweet and likable, even heroic.
There’s also a glimpse of Clint and Ron’s dad Rance Howard here, in a bit as a cameraman.
4. Fish Head and Entrails Guy
Clint Howard’s penchant for stealing scenes is acknowledged in this short by Michael Keaton, made for a “film festival” on Late Night with David Letterman in 1985. Keaton shows how, after fame went to his head, he lost everything and was reduced to an entry-level job in the fish head and entrail business. It’s there that he meets Clint H., who instructs him in the finer points of the biz, and informs him of the recreational opportunities it affords.
We also see how this guy literally steals an acting job from the star. And charismatic as Keaton undeniably is, there’s nothing implausible about it.
Ron Howard, who directed Keaton in Night Shift and would go on to direct him in Gung Ho and the underrated The Paper, also makes a quick appearance. He’s no match for his brother, though.
Released the same year as Jurassic Park, the goofy dino-drama Carnosaur was adapted, or so the credits tell us, from a novel by Harry Adam Knight and a treatment by John Brosnan (Knight and Brosnan were the same person). It features clunky practical effects and stars Diane Ladd, the mom of JP‘s Laura Dern.
It also costars Clint Howard as “Slim Friar,” suffering a fate common to character players. In the big scene in which he [spoiler!] becomes dinosaur feed, he’s enjoying some fried chicken, which, given the current paleontological understanding of the dinosaur-bird connection, constitutes, by this picture’s standards, a pretty high level of ironic wit.
Also: In 1991’s enjoyable The Rocketeer, Clint Howard makes a fleeting, barely-glimpsed appearance as a character listed in the credits as “Monk.” Here his character is “Friar.” Coincidence?
2. Tobias Lehigh Nagy
Carnosaur is just one of the many, many film and television credits that Clint Howard has racked up during his adult years. He’s played the hipster jazz radio DJ in That Thing You Do! and the exterminator in Forget Paris and a psychiatrist in Rob Zombie’s Halloween and the radar man in the Austin Powers flicks. His childhood voice work for Disney has led him, in adulthood, to voice work ranging from Curious George to The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. On television he’s appeared on everything from Married…With Children to Star Trek: Enterprise to Key and Peele.
And when the time came to cast the role of a serial killer (an alleged serial killer, that is) on Seinfeld, it was Clint Howard who got the call. As Tobias Lehigh Nagy, aka The Smog Strangler, in the second episode of the 1992 two-parter “The Trip,” he gets thrown together with George and Jerry in the back of an LAPD squad car. The conversation turns to the appropriate tip for a hotel maid, and Nagy proves less parsimonious than our heroes.
1. EECOM White
Although I have a soft spot for The Paper (in which, by the way, Clint Howard also appears), 1995’s Apollo 13 is probably the best, most engrossing, most re-watchable of Ron Howard’s many films as a director. It also contains, perhaps not coincidentally, probably the juiciest role that Clint Howard’s ever had working for his brother, that of Seymour “Sy” Liebergot, the EECOM (Electronic, Environmental and Consumables Manager) who helps the wounded title craft and its precious cargo of Tom Hanks and two other guys get home. He got to briefly reprise the part in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
I had wondered if it was my fondness for Clint Howard that made me think he was especially good in Apollo 13. So I was gratified to read, in Patton Oswalt’s enjoyable if slightly uneven book about his moviegoing addiction Silver Screen Fiend, this curiously intense but spot-on appreciation of the performance:
“…there’s Clint Howard, wearing a pair of glasses that would soon adorn the bridge of every hipster’s nose in Williamsburg and Los Feliz. And a tight, conservative comb-over haircut and Church of the SubGenius pipe…
Reading off of his frantic, scrambled screen, in defiance of its digital panic, he says, tersely but professionally, ‘O2 tank two not reading at all. Tank one is at seven hundred twenty-five PSI and falling. Fuel cells one and three are, uh…’
And then a pause. He’s so determined, in that moment, to offer up his report, to be a part of the team, to function.
But that pause. It’s as long as an intake of breath. And then, with a frightened flutter in his voice (and notice how there’s also a touch of anger, at himself, for allowing this moment of doubt in the face of science and the infinite)
‘Oh boy, what’s going on here?’
That single moment in Apollo 13, that single line reading by a lifer actor who, like the character he’s playing, never fails to show up and deliver a solid piece of work, pierced me. I realized that up until that point in Apollo 13, all of its pyrotechnic special effects and thrilling cinematography had left me cold. Well, not cold. I liked the rocket taking off and the explosions and the Apollo 13 itself spinning through the void, spitting instantly frozen oxygen. Good moviemaking.
But it was Clint Howard’s line. The pause, and the ‘oh boy,’ which hit me with twice the impact of a thousand rocket engines and all of their vulcanized thrust.”
M.V. Moorhead won five Arizona Press Club awards for his work in Phoenix New Times. His reviews, essays, poetry, fiction and other writings have appeared in Wrangler News (wranglernews.com), Phoenix Magazine, USA Today, Weird Tales, Elysian Fields Quarterly, The Big Click and many other publications in the U.S. and Australia, and may also be found at his own blog, Less Hat, Moorhead ([email protected]). He's also a produced playwright, and was a talk-radio host in Phoenix for two years. A native of Pennsylvania, he lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, his daughter and three Chihuahuas with five eyeballs between them.