We caught up with the singer-actor-director to talk swing music, artistic influences and his hilarious role on Happy Days.
Ralph Malph has a killer set of pipes.
Yes, Donny Most, best known for his role as the jokester from the Happy Days gang, can croon with the best of them. Think: Frank Sinatra or Bobby Darin.
"I think a lot of people were pretty surprised [to learn I could sing]," he laughs. "Hopefully, in the near future, people won't be so surprised anymore because it will mean that people have been hearing my albums."
While Most's soaring vocals and big band concerts might shock some of his Happy Days fans, it will also undoubtedly leave them impressed.
Forget what you think you know about Most: the wisecracks, the impish grin, the "I still got it!" catchphrase. At 63, Most is returning to his roots and making music again—swing music, to be exact. He rattles off a list of inspirations, from Hoagy Carmichael to Sammy Davis Jr.
"That's the path I was on when I was young," he explains. "I was intent on the singing side of things, moreso than the acting. It was only after the summer [of 1967] when I sang professionally in nightclubs [as a 15-year-old] up in the Catskill Mountains that I switched gears. My focus then became acting, but singing is my first love."
But when the Brooklyn native set aside his musical chops to dive headfirst into the role of Ralph on Happy Days, he wasn't prepared for the series to become an almost instant classic.
The show, which aired 255 half-hour episodes between 1974 to 1984, chronicled the escapades of Milwaukee teens Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and his buddies, Ralph Malph (Don Most), Potsie Webber (Anson Williams) and high school dropout Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler). Set in the mid-1950s, creator Garry Marshall envisioned a feel-good series that would harken back to the idealized vision of life that appeared in Leave It To Beaver-esque shows from back in the day. The gamble paid off: Happy Days went into syndication and remains one of the highest-rated American TV series of all time.
"The show was one of those serendipitous lightning-in-a-bottle sort of things," Most says. "It was uncanny the chemistry that we all felt almost from the get-go."
Not only did the series kickstart Most's career in entertainment, but it also introduced him to Morgan Hart, his wife of 35 years and mother of their two daughters. "[We met] during my final season [on Happy Days] and she had a small guest role," Most recalls with a chuckle. "I was instantly attracted to her and we started dating. Two years later [in 1982], we got married. She's an incredible, wonderful thing in my life and I feel so lucky."
But when Most left the series after seven seasons, he was disappointed to discover that the role that made him famous steadfastly remained front-and-centre in the minds of Hollywood producers. "It's because I was associated with a show that had become so iconic," he says. "It was very hard to break away from [Ralph Malph] and I wasn't getting the roles I wanted to do."
Despite this, Most boasts a string of TV credits, including recurring appearances on Glee, Star Trek: Voyager, The Love Boat, Baywatch and Murder, She Wrote.
Now, with the recent release of his new swing album, D Most: Mostly Swinging, he's following through on that boyhood dream he first pursued in 1967 during the professional music revue in the Catskill Mountains. "What singing gives me that I don't get from acting and directing, is [that] it taps into some sort of visceral feeling inside me," he says. "I'd love to spread the word more and do a series of albums."
Yup, he's still got it!
We caught up with Donny Most to talk swing music, artistic influences and Happy Days. Click through to read the full Q&A (plus, live concert footage).
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