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Don Most Has Still Got It

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Donny Most from the long running TV Sieries Happy Days. Image provided by B. Harlan Boll at BHBPR.
Making The Most From His Career As The Lovable and Affable Ralph Malph, The Entertainer Has Found A New Audience By Singing The Standards Of Yesteryear

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By David Fantle and Tom Johnson
Reel to Real Special for Modern Times Magazine

Sept. 7, 2015 — Actor Don Most, 62, is coming home – sort of. This month he returns to Milwaukee, the city where the long-running TV series Happy Days was set. Most portrayed the likable, red-headed goofball “Ralph Malph” on the sitcom and hung at Arnold’s, the local car-hop with Richie, Fonzie, Potsie, and Joanie (and sometimes Chachi). The show portrayed an idyllic view of middle America during the Eisenhower era.

Most’s homecoming will be part of a career revival and life-long passion, to front a swing band and sing the songs of the Great American Songbook. Most has been touring the country gigging and doing a damn good job channeling the standards popularized by the likes of Bobby Darin (his personal favorite), Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

In Happy Days, the vocal chores were typically handled by Anson Williams’ “Potsie” character. Like his close friend, Most, both have some of their earliest show business grounding as singers.

“Anson approached the show’s creator Garry Marshall about putting a band into Happy Days since music was such a big part of the 1950s,” Most told us from his Los Angeles home.  “He convinced Garry while I was just thinking about how I could best develop my character.”

For Most, a Brooklyn native, he started singing professionally as a teenager performing at Catskill Mountain resorts. The musical bug hit him when he saw The Jolson Story biopic of entertainer Al Jolson starring Larry Parks on WOR-TV’s Million Dollar Movie show. The films would run for an entire week and twice nightly.

“That movie made a huge impact on me,” he said. “I saw it so many times I memorized it.”

Most put his singing career on the back burner and the cherubic red-head became a staple on dozens of national TV commercials, including cereal (Rice Chex), McDonald’s and spots with Morgan Freeman and Robby Benson.

Most attended Lehigh University, but a summer trip to Los Angeles after his junior year, put his education on hold as he landed a few TV guest shots. He almost returned east for his senior year when he had an audition to read for a part in a new series on ABC, Happy Days.

“I originally tested for the role of Potsie,” he said. “I didn’t get the part, but they offered me they were creating, Ralph. I almost didn’t take it for a movie role, but my agent was playing basketball with Garry Marshall, who convinced him that I should take the part.”

Most, like his co-star Ron Howard stayed with the show for seven seasons of its 11 season run and readily admits that Happy Days was both a blessing and a curse.

“The public accepted me in different roles, but the people making the casting decisions have a tendency to stay close to the vest and compartmentalize people,” said Most.

For more information on Donny Most visit http://www.donmost.net.

The typecasting was an affliction shared by many actors who created indelible characters with the public. Despite some dry spells, Most continued to stay busy guest starring in TV shows (including a recurring role in Glee!), appearing and even directing some independent films.

Most returned to his singing roots, appearing in musical theater tours of I Love My Wife and Damn Yankees with Dick Van Dyke.

While he toyed with starting a solo singing career, he said the environment in the 1970s and 1980s labeled the tunes of Porter, Berlin and Gershwin the “music of our parents or grandparents,” he said. When Tony Bennett appeared on MTV and with the ascent of younger interpreters of these pop classics such as Diana Krall, Harry Connick, Steve Tyrell and Michael Feinstein, Most decided it was time to take the plunge.

Most tried out his act at a jazz club in Studio City, Calif., and the positive audience reaction has taken him to venues in cities from coast to coast, including Milwaukee in America’s heartland.

“With live performing you’re fully exposed,” he said. “I love this music so much, I’m riding a wave and it’s an incredible high.”

Married to his wife Morgan since 1982, Most is pleased with his current career trajectory. Singing is not the last act as Most hopes to continue acting and directing and just enjoying these happy days.

David Fantle & Tom Johnson have interviewed more than 250 celebrities, mostly from “Hollywood’s Golden Age.” They are co-authors of the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 Years Of Celebrity Profiles From Vaudeville To Movies To TV and are currently writing a biography of songwriter and legendary MGM musical producer Arthur Freed. Reach them at david.fantle@gmail.com or tjohnsonca@aol.com
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