A recent encounter with an old “friend” resulted in some surprising information, courtesy of my wife, Jill. A few TV buffs might recognize the name Arnold Winkler. Others might not know the name but will recall the character. Arnold was the spoiled friend of Opie Taylor (Ron Howard) on “The Andy Griffith Show,” and in a memorable episode, he provided Opie with some advice on how allowances work and how to negotiate. Some of the dialogue is great, and two scenes are excellent—Opie’s testing of Arnold’s methods, and the finale in the sheriff’s office.
Jill loves many of the old shows that have been revived on different channels. I’m much old … scratch that … let’s just say I’m enough older than her to have seen the shows when they originally aired. It’s common ground for the two of us to watch old shows together. At least in my opinion, they stand up quite well against any competition. While some provide escape, “The Andy Griffith Show,” believe it or not, depicts small-town life much as it was in the 1950s and early 1960s.
As we watch episodes of just about any show, past or present, Jill chimes in with all sorts of “Did you know?” information. In most cases the answer is no, I didn’t, and this one was typical. Little Arnold Winkler, she informed me, was actually Ronnie Dapo, a native of Plattsburgh. I had no idea.
He was born in Plattsburgh in May 1952, the son of Mr. and Mrs. George Dapo, and also has a link to the Duclo family in nearby Morrisonville. After Ronnie’s grandfather (also George) died in 1955, George’s widow, Sadie, married Arthur Duclo, who operated Duclo’s Auto Body Shop in Morrisonville for 25 years.
Ronnie’s family moved to Hollywood, California, in early 1958. During an interview in 1962, they said going west was the result of frequent comments about Ronnie, stuff like, “He’s so cute, he should be in pictures.” By the time that interview took place, he was a veteran actor all of nine years old.
Dapo’s career lasted eight years and included appearances in some notable TV series. His first year in the business, 1959, featured roles in a Jack Webb movie titled, “-30-,” and the TV series “US Marshal” (directed by Robert Altman) and “Wagon Train.”
In 1960 he had an uncredited role in the movie “Ocean’s 11” starring several Rat Packers, including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, plus a host of other famous folks.
The apex of Dapo’s career had to be 1962, when he was among four child stars of the series “Room for One More,” which lasted one season. He also appeared on “The Detectives,” “Cheyenne,” and “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet,” and won an uncredited role in “The Music Man,” one of the year’s best movies. Robert Preston and Shirley Jones starred, but it’s interesting that Ron Howard and Ronnie Dapo both appeared in it as well, the year before they were paired in Mayberry. “Opie and the Spoiled Kid” (1963) was his first of three times on “The Andy Griffith Show,” twice as Arnold Winkler.
The personal bonus for little Ronnie in 1962 was six days of shooting for his appearance in “Cheyenne.” The show starred Clint Walker, a giant of a man—six-foot-six, 48-inch chest, 32-inch waist—and young Dapo’s idol. For one glorious week, Ronnie was the happiest pretend-son-of-a-widowed-schoolteacher in the business.
He had roles in other movies and notable series, including “Maverick,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Lassie,” “The Munsters,” “The Fugitive,” “F.B.I.,” and “The Lucy Show.” His acting career ended in 1966.
I enjoy learning about accomplished folks from the North Country, and would like to acknowledge once again that the story of Ronnie Dapo’s venture into show business long ago came to us courtesy of my wife Jill. It’ll mean just a little bit more to us when we spot him during future viewing, especially when Arnold Winkler shows up in Mayberry.
You can watch the full “Spoiled Kid” episode here.
Photo: Ronnie Dapo as Arnold Winkler