Don Most initially turned down the role of Ralph Malph on Happy Days
A game of hoops at Garry Marshall's house changed his mind.
Before Donny Most became forever known as Ralph Malph on Happy Days, the young actor wasn't so sure how he felt about sitcoms. He was a little keener on becoming a dramatic actor, but while he had landed a few bit parts, he wasn't exactly swimming in job offers.
That's why, in 1973, Most had to make a difficult decision: Try to make it as an actor in California or go back for his senior year of college. His agent urged him to stick around, telling him the momentum from dramatic roles on shows like M*A*S*H and Emergency! all but guaranteed there would be more parts out there for Most.
So, Most did as his agent advised. And then there was a lull, when he was cast in nothing. He started to worry he made the wrong choice, and that's when his Happy Days audition came up, at the same time as a dramatic TV movie. It seemed Most might make it after all.
Most said he went through a series of interviews, auditions, and screen tests as part of his Happy Days audition. Then, on a fateful Friday, he finally got offered the part of Ralph Malph. But the truth was, he didn't even know if he wanted it.
"I was up for a TV movie at the same time, which was a very serious piece, which I was kind of more leaning toward wanting to do that," Most told the Boomer Tube. "So we got the offer on Friday night, and we turned it down."
"I decided I really wanted to do the other part," Most said. "I wasn't really sure about doing a sitcom."
Most thought that he'd passed on the part and that was that.
But Happy Days creator Garry Marshall invited Most's agent to a basketball game at Marshall's house that very same weekend. Apparently, over the course of the game, Marshall struck up a discussion with Most's agent. By the time the agent left, he was running back to Most to encourage his client to do Happy Days.
"We talked, and I decided to take it," Most said.
Tom Bosley told Emmy TV Legends that Marshall has called the manner in which the Happy Days cast came together "fate" — mostly because there are so many family-style coincidences that link the cast members together.
For example: Donny Most and Henry Winkler never met as boys, but their families both had summer homes within two blocks from each other.
Bosley also said that one of the producers, Tom Miller, took piano lessons from his mom, and even more stunning: "The weirdest one was the rabbi who married Henry's parents in Berlin in 1936 was the same rabbi that married Tom Miller's sister to her husband."
"Garry said, 'This is all fate. This is fate that we're all here,'" Bosley remembered.
For Most, it was this fate that he had hoped would pan out when he gambled on staying in California. He wasn’t going to risk gambling this opportunity away, and Bosley praised Most as a disciplined actor right from the start.
"Don always took his work very seriously," Bosley said. "He has talent and always did have talent."
Because he was new, Most may have actually benefited from the sitcom framework in ways he may not have considered when he initially turned down the role.
"Donny had to have everything laid out for him, and once he knew what was going to happen, he would attack it and he'd come off great," Bosley said of Donny's learning process as an actor.
Beyond finding his place on the TV dial, Most also found an immediate friendship with Ron Howard, which also seemed destined.
"Donny Most and I really hit it off because we're almost exactly the same age and have so many of the same interests, sports, liked the same movies, and that kind of thing," Ron Howard told Emmy TV Legends. Most also hit it off with his other onscreen buddy Anson Williams.
"It was fun, and we remain close to this day," Howard said of his bond with Most, Williams and Winkler.
It's hard to imagine anybody but Most as Ralph Malph, so we're glad the actor changed his mind to do the series over the TV movie. Ralph featured in the series through the seventh season, after which Most went on to bring his dynamic acting talents to movies and TV shows since, and is still acting today.
Marion Ross said Most was missed after he left the show, and Bosley echoed the fondness in that sentiment in his interview. "It'll be hard for me not to call him Donny," Bosley said, unable to think of the Ralph Malph actor as anything but "a very sweet kid."