Opie Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show, Richie Cunningham from Happy Days, the guy who directed Apollo 13, Backdraft, Willow, Cocoon and more—it’s Ron Howard, and nobody exemplifies the beating-all-odds American Dream like a child actor turned good adult actor, a miracle in itself, and nothing exemplifies the American Dream more than his story of becoming a director.
And the fruition of that dream—the birth of a legend really—came when Roger Corman and Howard met. A few variations of their legendary deal exists, but suffice it to say that Howard would star in one film and then star and direct in a second one which would be his directorial debut.
So five years into the ten-year series Happy Days, Ron Howard, Opie Taylor, Richie Cunningham stars in Eat My Dust! (1976) as the teenage leadfoot car enthusiast Hoover Niebold and also—in a moment of typecasting—the son of the sheriff. In this Charles Griffith helmed car movie Howard as Hoover works resupplying paper towels in gas stations, the sheriff’s office and the speedway, but what he really likes to do is drive cars.
And when he’s trying to ask out sexpot Darlene (Christropher Norris, yeah, hey, I didn’t know it was unisexual either)—he finds out Darlene likes to ride fast, and he offers her a ride in his truck, but she points and says “I want to ride in that car.” She is pointing at a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro and that car isn’t in the parking lot. That car is on the race track.
Number 8, Mabel, as she is called, IS orange, but what are you gonna do—it was the 70s. Big eightballs addorn the doors, tire wells flare out, and flared up more like a little spoiler the trunk lid commands, “Follow me”. Mabel is usually driven by Big Bubba Jones aka Dave Madden, the manager of The Partridge Family, but Hoover steals it right off of the race track and picks up Darlene and his gang of friends.
He takes them all on the ride of their lives, devastating the small town fleet of cop cars, turning one on its side, forcing one into a pig mudhole, and flipping one over a creek like a bridge. Nobody, however, is safe as Hoover in Death Race 2000 mode, endangers crosswalkers, skateboarders, fruit stands, streetside restaurants and people carrying ladders across the road, even forcing a station wagon ambulance off the road and sending its gurney and patient street surfing downhill. To make it truly referential to the Corman-produced 1975 film Death Race 2000, its director, Paul Bartel, even makes a cameo.
With the patrol cars out of commission, some racers give chase. Number 11 is a 1968 Ford Fairlane, black with a white point on its hood and a white Starksy and Hutch swoosh on the side. Number 4 is a 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 painted a hodge podge of red, white and blue. Number 5 is a 1964 Dodge 330 white with red markings. And most of the cops, including Hoover’s dad, are riding along in number 7/11, a 1966 Buick LaSabre, white and blue with a blue lightning bolt shooting up to the front fender.
Things don’t fare out that well for Ron Howard by the end of it, but the race car owner of the car he stole might just have a new driver because as Hoover answers when Darlene asks “Well, can they catch us?” he answers, “Yeah, if I run into a wall or something.” And that is not even the start of Ron Howard’s directorial career. For that, we must take a look at Grand Theft Auto (1977).
You can watch the full movie here: