The instant the postman pops the morning mail through the slot on Clint Howard's front door, the 39-year-old actor riffles through the envelopes and rips one open. It's a residual check from The Karate Kid—for $12. "I always look for these first," he says. He ducks into the office of his three-bedroom Burbank home and returns clutching a check for one penny—compensation for a TV airing of the 1983 comedy Get Crazy. He flashes a gap-toothed grin: "I just had to keep this one."
No question that Howard's paychecks sport fewer zeroes than those of his big-shot big brother, actor-turned-director Ron. But if his name isn't as familiar, his face should be. From his TV debut at age 2, playing neighbor Leon to Ron's Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, Clint has appeared—usually in bit parts—in more than 50 films, plus dozens of TV movies and series. His specialties: nerds (a Mission Control scientist in Ron's Apollo 13), serial killers (he shared the back of a police car with Jerry and Elaine in a 1992 Seinfeld) and sickos in schlocky horror fests. Though there's little danger of Howard—who plays a football fanatic in the new Adam Sandler comedy, The Waterboy—bringing home an Oscar, he has become a cult favorite, picking up a "lifetime achievement" MTV Movie Award in June and receiving hundreds of letters a year from eagle-eyed fans. "I guess," he says, "I'm kind of an underdog figure because I'm a successful guy's little brother."
Howard counts Ron, 44, as a close pal—and a patron. Ron has cast him in 13 films, including Splash, Back-draft and the upcoming EdTV. When Clint didn't show up in 1996's Ransom, says Ron, "I took a fair amount of aggravation from people asking, 'Where's Clint?' Whatever the part, he really pops onscreen."
For years, though, Clint's cameos were more a matter of brotherly compassion. In the early '80s, the former child star took a break from showbiz that turned into a decade of alcohol and drug abuse. "I wanted to goof around and party for a couple of years, and the party just didn't stop," he says. Worried, Ron and parents Rance, 70, and Jean, 71, joined Al-Anon and adopted the group's "tough love" philosophy. Still, Ron gave Clint parts, he says, "to help him out and get his face on the screen. I would talk to him about how he was undermining his talent."
Finally, Clint says, he hit bottom after the Gulf War: "It was great television. When it was over, there I was, sitting with a pint of vodka in my hand with no war to watch." He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and has been sober for eight years. "I got my life back on track," he says, "and I met my wife"—Melanie, 37, whom he wed in 1995. "Funny how that works when you're sober."
Howard does not blame his problems on the pressures of child stardom. His parents, actors themselves, accompanied their sons on gigs and "created stability around us," he says. At age 7, after roles on shows from Ben Casey to Bonanza, Clint landed the lead in CBS's Gentle Ben—opposite a toothless, "pungent" black bear that once chomped on his arm. "It was strictly a gumming," he says, "but I was pretty scared." With Ben joining Andy Griffith in the Top 20, says Clint, "the Howards were on top of the world."
But when adulthood arrived, Ron turned to directing—and Clint to drinking and acting in B-movies such as 1981's Evilspeak. "Those films don't personally do it for me," he says. "I just needed to work."
In 1992 he met Melanie, then a saleswoman for Pacific Bell. (His one prior marriage, in 1986, lasted a year.) "We would love to have a family, and we're trying," he says. Howard also plans to direct a horror screenplay he has optioned. He says he won't ask Ron for help. Then he grins. "But I will offer him a part!"
Vicki Sheff-Cahan in Burbank
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