McNear was born in Los Angeles, California to Luzetta M. Spencer and Franklin E. McNear. He worked in radio from the late 1930s, distinguishing himself in the 1938–1940 radio serial Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police as ace operator Clint Barlow. McNear could be effective in such authoritative roles, but he gravitated more toward character roles, often comic.
He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps on November 17, 1942 during World War II.
McNear died in the San Fernando Valley from the effects of a stroke. After his passing in 1969, Howard McNear was interred in the Los Angeles National Cemetery, a former U.S. Veterans Administration cemetery in Los Angeles. He was survived by his wife Helen and son Christopher.
In two episodes of the comedy sketch program Second City Television, actor Eugene Levy played McNear's Floyd the Barber. His first appearance as Floyd the Barber was in a parody of The Godfather, in the opening scene as Amerigo Bonasera, in which he asks the Don to hurt Opie for breaking his barber pole. The last line delivered by Floyd is "Ohh, and would you kill Howard Sprague for me?", referring to Howard Sprague, a character from the Andy Griffith Show. His other appearance was The Merv Griffith Show (a combination parody of the Andy Griffith Show and the Merv Griffin Show), in which he is in his barber shop cutting hair and at a surprise party for Gomer.
1953 The Long, Long Trailer Joe Hittaway Uncredited
1954 Drums Across the River Stilwell
1956 You Can't Run Away from It Vernon, Second proprietor
1957 The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown John Myers Uncredited
1958 Bell, Book and Candle Andy White - Shep's Co-Publisher
1959 Good Day for a Hanging Olson
1959 Anatomy of a Murder Dr. Dompierre
1959 It Started with a Kiss Emile Uncredited
1959 -30- Editor Alternative title: Deadline Midnight
1960 Heller in Pink Tights Photographer of dead gunmen
1961 The Last Time I Saw Archie General Williams
1961 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Congressman Parker
1961 Blue Hawaii Mr. Chapman
1961 The Errand Boy Dexter Sneak
1962 Follow that Dream George
1963 Irma la Douce Concierge
1963 The Wheeler Dealers Mr. Wilson Alternative title: Separate Beds
1964 Kiss Me, Stupid Mr. Pettibone
1965 Love and Kisses Mr. Frisby
1966 The Fortune Cookie Mr. Cimoli Alternative title: Meet Whiplash Willie
1955 Waterfront Mike Baxter 1 episode
1955 Willy Sherman 1 episode
1955-1958 The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show Mr. Jansen 2 episodes
1956 Lassie Professor Scott 1 episode
1956 I Love Lucy Mr. Crawford 1 episode
1958 The Thin Man Mr. Dingle 1 episode
1958 Playhouse 90 Bertram 1 episode
1958 Leave It to Beaver Andy the Barber 1 episode
1959 The Donna Reed Show Wilbur Wilgus 2 episodes
1959 The Gale Storm Show Parker 1 episode
1960 Richard Diamond, Private Detective Dr. Braun 1 episode
1960 The Tab Hunter Show Plumber 1 episode
1960 Laramie Waldo 1 episode
1960 Have Gun - Will Travel Samuels 1 episode
1960-1962 The Flintstones Doctor (Voice) 3 episodes
1961 Klondike Augustus Brown 1 episode
1961 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Mr. Maxwell 1 episode
1961 Mister Ed Harry Sweetzer 1 episode
1961-1967 The Andy Griffith Show Floyd Lawson 80 episodes
1962 Pete and Gladys Professor Sheboyan 1 episode
1962 The Wide Country Agent Carmody 1 episode
1965 Honey West Mr. Tweedy 1 episode
1965 Please Don't Eat the Daisies Mr. Arnold 1 episode
1.^ Record of Howard McNear, Social Security Death Index.
2.^ Record of Howard T. McNear. Ancestry.com. California Death Index, 1940-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000.
3.^ Ancestry.com community; Howard T. McNear
4.^ Radio Broadcast Log Of: Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police
5.^ National Archives and Records Administration. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.
6.^ Gunsmoke Radio series information
7.^ Golden Age of Radio
8.^ Leave it to Beaver episode info, "The Shave"
9.^ Howard McNear biography
10.^ Find a Grave, Howard McNear
11.^ "Howard McNear, Actor, 63; On Andy Griffith Show", The New York Times, Jan. 7, 1969, p. 38.