Has Donny Most made the leap from zany sitcom sidekick to stylish crooner? Correct-amundo, says the actor who played Ralph Malph on ABC's iconic 1974-84 series "Happy Days." Ol' Redhead pays homage to Ol' Blue Eyes and the American Songbook during his "Sings and Swings" tour, which hits Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington Friday.
Most, 61, talked music and more from his home in Los Angeles.
You act, direct and produce, but music's your first love. Who inspired you?
Number one was Bobby Darin. I got to see him at the Copacabana when I was 18. Boy, was it something! He could swing as good as anybody. That's the music I love most, when you have a big band, great arrangements and the musicians are cooking. I just get in the pocket with them and go. It's a great high. When I was 9, I saw "The Jolson Story." It made me want to sing and act.
What's your playlist like?
I do Sinatra, Darin. Beautiful standards with a jazz feel, the kind by Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. I also mix in fun stuff from the '30s and '40s, the Louis Prima jump 'n' jive genre. It's infectious.
You're a Brooklyn boy. Is playing New York a thrill?
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I made my New York club debut last month at 54 Below. It was extra special.
Few folks know a Beatle visited "Happy Days." Were you stunned?
Yes! While rehearsing a scene at Arnold's Drive-In, we had a break. Anson Williams [who played Potsie] went to get coffee near the soundstage door, then came back and said, "It's funny, a guy over there looks just like John Lennon." We said, right, Lennon's here. All of a sudden we realize it's HIM. We were bowled over. He was really nice, soft-spoken, low-key. His son [Julian] liked the show, and they were in L.A., doing things like Disneyland. They stayed and watched us rehearse. Talk about surreal.
Why didn't Lennon do a cameo?
If producer Garry Marshall was there, maybe he'd have [asked]. We were too caught up with talking to him. He would have had to cut his hair. I don't know if he'd have been into that.
Robin Williams launched his career as Mork on "Happy Days." Did you see his potential?
We knew we were in the presence of something special. But we thought maybe it was our worst script, about a guy from outer space. Garry Marshall saw "Star Wars" with his son, who said, "Why don't you do a show about a spaceman?" When I got to the set, there was incredible buzz. People were saying, "You gotta see this guy, he's unbelievable!" Who better to play someone from outer space than Robin? He was operating on a different wavelength.
Your alma mater, Erasmus High School, has remarkable alumni: Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, the Three Stooges' Moe Howard, Marky Ramone, Mickey Spillane, Clive Davis ...
... and Barbara Stanwyck, Eli Wallach. In my class was Cheryl Toussaint. She was [a 1972 silver medalist] at the Olympics.
You're funny as Emma's dad on Fox's "Glee." Did its social awareness impress you?
The characters were interesting, that was the allure for me. After I heard about the social issues they dealt with, I felt really comfortable on the set. It reminded me of "Happy Days." The vibe was great.
Who organized the band for your Port Washington concert?
I found my musical director on Long Island. Willie Scoppettone [a Smithtown saxophonist] put together great local musicians [including guitarist Michael Saliba of Farmingville, pianist Al Koll of Wading River, drummer Louis Katsauros of Nesconset, trombonist Terry Nigrilli of Kings Park, strings leader Brad Bosenbeck of Deer Park, trumpeter Seth Bailey of New Hampshire and bassist David Url of Connecticut].
You put out a self-titled pop album in 1976. Did you enjoy making it?
It wasn't the kind of music I really loved, it was the kind the producers thought I needed to do to be successful. What I'm doing now is so, so different, because it's in my body and soul.
Your "Happy Days" co-stars Scott Baio, Tom Bosley and Anson Williams all released albums, too. If you, Baio and Williams competed on "American Idol" or "The Voice," who'd win?
It would be between Anson and I, depending on the judges. I don't think Scott would be up there. Anson has a really good voice, and does legitimate Broadway stuff well. He'd score big in that realm, while I'd score with the jazz/swing standards.
It's nice that you didn't throw Chachi under the bus. Will Scott Baio care that you picked him third?
I think he'd kind of agree on that.
During the infancy of "Happy Days," Richie's brother, Chuck, famously vanished. It's just a theory I have, but did Fonzie kill him as part of a gang initiation?
[Laughs.] That's a theory I haven't heard. People ask me about Chuck a lot; I don't know why it's become such a cult issue. It's weird. After [the writers] started focusing on Richie's parents and friends, they didn't quite know what to do with Chuck. It was a mutual decision between the actor and producers to just let go of it. I always thought that was bizarre.
"Glee" is notable for its gay roles. Can you imagine a "Happy Days" character coming out as homosexual in 1974?
I don't know if TV was ready for that. The executives certainly weren't. They'd have been too scared to address it.
On "Family Guy," you did a witty, self-deprecating cameo. Was that fun?
Maybe at first blush it looks self-deprecating, but I didn't look at it that way. I thought it was very funny. After I left "Happy Days" I wanted to be looked at more seriously, so I went by Don Most. They were poking fun at the fact I went from Donny to Don. I can't tell you how many people see me and mention ["Family Guy"]. I'm glad I did it.
You're producing a film, "Exposed Memories." What's it about?
It's the story of [Gianni Bozzacchi], a poor kid from post-World War II Rome who became the personal photographer to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He also shot Picasso and Brigitte Bardot. It's an examination of celebrity [via] a street kid who ends up with a jet-set life.
On "Happy Days," your catchphrase was "I still got it!" Whose idea was that?
I brought it in on my own. The writers didn't [create] it. A lot of my Ralph Malph character was drawn from our director, Jerry Paris, the genius behind "The Dick Van Dyke Show." He was funny all the time. Whenever he'd score with something we laughed at, he'd say, "I still got it!" At one point I said, "I'm going to steal that from you, Jerry." In one episode, after I told my joke, I said, "I still got it!," and everyone loved it. So I stole it from Jerry ... or let's say I borrowed it from Jerry!
How tough is the transition from sitcom star to being taken seriously as a singer?
It's a lot easier than the earlier challenge for me, which was going from a sitcom to theater, film and serious dramatic roles. That was very, very difficult. Going into singing is easier. People don't know me in that vein, but usually the reaction I get it is, "Wow, you're doing that!" They're curious and have really good feelings about it.
You lived in Flatbush in the 1950s. Do you recall the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn?
I was 5 years old and remember hearing about it. I started following baseball at 6. The Dodgers were gone so I became a huge Yankees fan.
As a kid, did you visit Long Island much?
A lot. We had friends in our building in Brooklyn -- they moved to Long Island when I was 10, so we'd visit them in Baldwin. When I went to Lehigh University, many of my fraternity brothers were from L.I., so I used to go with them to Port Washington, Great Neck, Malverne, West Hempstead, Roslyn.
WHAT "Donny Most Sings and Swings"
WHEN|WHERE Friday at 8 p.m., Landmark on Main Street, Port Washington
INFO $45; 844-698-9696, ticketfly.com