Who was Jean Speegle Howard?
Jean Frances Speegle Howard was an American film, TV, and children’s theater actor. She was known for her performances in films of diverse genres, such as comedy (‘Scrooged’), science fiction (Cocoon), and drama (Apollo 13). Born and raised in Oklahoma, US, she studied acting at the ‘American Academy of Dramatic Arts,’ New York, and also at the ‘University of Oklahoma.’ She performed and toured with a children’s theater company. After marriage, she dedicated herself to her family and looked after her two sons, who were child actors. Once her sons were established in the entertainment industry, she began accepting acting assignments again. Thus, at the age of 58, she returned to her acting career and proved herself as a well-appreciated character actor. She worked in around 22 films and over 30 TV shows. Some of her notable films were ‘Cocoon,’ ‘Apollo 13,’ ‘Matilda,’ and ‘My Fellow Americans.’ She was also part of TV series such as ‘Married …with Children,’ ‘Grace under Fire,’ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ and ‘Two of a Kind.’ She was married to actor Rance Howard and had two sons and four grandchildren. She died of cardiac and respiratory illness at the age of 73.
Childhood & Early Life
Howard was born on January 31, 1927, in Duncan, Oklahoma, to Louise (née Dewey) and William Allen Speegle. After completing her high-school graduation, she moved to New York City and joined the ‘American Academy of Dramatic Arts.’
In 1946, Howard met with an accident in New York. She was hit by a truck and survived with difficulty. She could not walk for months after that. She returned to her family in Oklahoma to recuperate. After recovery, she joined the drama program at the ‘University of Oklahoma.’
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Howard toured actively with a children’s theater company. After her marriage and the birth of her first son, during the 1950s, she settled into domestic life and kept her own career on hold. Howard returned to acting after a gap of 30 years, only after both her sons had successfully made a name in their respective acting careers.
In 1985, Howard started her full-fledged film career with her son Ron Howard’s directorial science-fiction fantasy–comedy ‘Cocoon,’ in which she portrayed a dignified senior citizen. In the 1986 TV movie ‘A Smoky Mountain Christmas,’ she played ‘Old Lady Jezebel,’ starring with her real-life husband, Rance Howard, who played the role of ‘Dr. Jennings.’
In the 1988 Christmas comedy ‘Scrooged,’ she played ‘Mrs. Claus.’ She appeared as an elderly woman in ‘I Don’t Buy Kisses Anymore’ (1992). Howard played the role of a hospital volunteer in the 1994 comedy–drama film ‘The Paper,’ directed by Ron Howard.
She is remembered for the role of ‘Blanch Lovell,’ mother of astronaut ‘Jim Lovell,’ in the Ron Howard-directed space docudrama ‘Apollo – 13’ (1995). In the movie, when she is told that her astronaut son may not return, she asserts, “If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it.” Howard made this line memorable.
This was followed by ‘Matilda’ (1996), a fantasy–comedy film directed by Danny DeVito, in which she played a librarian named ‘Mrs. Phelps.’ In ‘My Fellow Americans’ (1996), Howard worked alongside Jack Lemmon and James Garner, as an asthmatic woman on tour.
‘The Hiding Place’ (2000) was her last film. It was about a family’s travails through old-age issues. The movie featured her alongside Kim Hunter. She completed the film although she was unwell at that time.
Some of her successful TV projects were ‘Married… with Children’ (1987–1997), ‘Roseanne’ (1988), ‘Grace under Fire’ (1993), ‘Ellen’ (1994), and the cult series ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1996). She also worked with twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen in ‘Two of a Kind’ (1998). Some of her other notable series were ‘Homeboys in Outer Space,’ ‘Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,’ ‘Unhappily Ever After,’ ‘Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place,’ and ‘Norm.’
Family & Personal Life
She met actor-writer Rance Howard through her drama classmate Dennis Weaver. Howard and Speegle toured with a professional children’s theater group. They got married in 1949, while touring through Kentucky.
Speegle Howard continued to work on stage till her first son, Ronald “Ron” Howard, was born in 1954. Following this, the family moved from Duncan, Oklahoma, to Burbank, California, where her second son, Clinton “Clint” Howard, was born in 1959.
Both her children performed as child artists, while Howard kept her own career aside to provide a healthy upbringing and a stable home for them. In 1985, she returned to acting, at age 58. She worked till 1999 and then retired due to poor health.
Her sons are well-known actors and directors. Her granddaughters, Bryce Dallas Howard and Paige Howard, are also actors.
Howard died of cardiac and respiratory ailments on September 2, 2000, in Burbank, California. She was interred at ‘Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hill Cemetery.’
Her son’s directorial venture ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ (2000), which had performances by her husband, her son Clint, and her granddaughter Bryce, displayed a dedication stating that she was someone “who loved Christmas the most.”