It would be a mistake to confuse Ronnie Dapo with the character he portrayed in “Opie and the Spoiled Kid,” the first of three episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” in which he appears.
Dapo played Arnold Winkler, who schools Opie (unsuccessfully) in the art of the temper tantrum and parental manipulation.
The actor was about 11 years old when the episode was produced in 1963, and by then, the child actor had already been working full time for several years.
Though he left the entertainment industry when he was about 14 years old, (“I cried uncle,” he said, “It was time to go,”) he juggled life as a touring musician with day jobs such as steel framing and running a printing press.
He kept it up until retirement at age 60.
“I’m 64 now and I’ve got 53 years on the books,” said Dapo, who lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife of 45 years.
That’s a far cry from the whiny Winkler, who tries to convince Opie he shouldn’t have to work for his 25-cent allowance.
Dapo was thrust into the entertainment industry at a young age.
His family had moved from Pontiac, Michigan to California when he was five.
“My mom was on the bus showing pictures of her kids,” he said. “Lola Moore,” the woman who would become Dapo’s agent, “was on the bus that day.”
She asked if Dapo would like to audition.
“Of course my mom said, ‘oh absolutely,’” he said.
His first try was successful, and after three callbacks, he was cast in the 1959 film “-30-” starring Jack Webb.
Things took off from there.
Children with studio experience were in high demand, Dapo said.
“By the time I was 9 they’d just send me a script,” not requiring an audition, he said.
Dapo made the rounds, appearing in films such as the 1960 “Ocean’s 11,” and “The Music Man,” as well as television shows such as “The Lucy Show” “The Munsters” and “The Fugitive.”
He had signed on with Warner Brothers for five years, his contract letting him freelance for other studios.
“And that’s how I got on ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’” Dapo said.
He recalls it as a positive experience.
“I worked with Ronnie (Howard) and enjoyed him,” he said, remembering how Howard’s mother would sit and knit on the set.
One of his first impressions of the cast and crew was a run-in with Andy Griffith himself.
“I got on set and had come out of makeup and heard this guitar strumming and scrubbing,” said Dapo.
He came around the corner in the hallway and saw the titular star playing the musical instrument.
“What struck me was he was in his underwear,” Dapo recalled, laughing. “Well, I thought, this was going to be a relaxed set.”
Dapo, with many different environments to serve as comparison, confirmed what many have said about the family atmosphere of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“I’ve been on some sets where if it takes more than three takes you get chewed up and down the wall,” he said.
In “Opie and the Spoiled Kid,” Dapo’s character Winkler throws a world class hissy fit to compel the sheriff to release his $75 bike from the impound.
The directors gave Dapo a few takes to really work himself up.
“They’d say, just give us a little bit more,” he said. By the third take he was pretty much screaming, he said. When the director yelled cut, he thought they might go again.
Instead, “The whole place stood up and applauded me,” he said. “Parts like that were great.”
Dapo found the same vibe still alive at the 2015 Mayberry Days, his first.
“It just blew me away,” he said. “I’m so happy to see people enjoying the show. This couple from Florida told me, ‘we drove two days to come meet you,’” he said, which was a very emotional experience for Dapo, he said.
“This year I want to hit as many events as I can.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.