This Happy Days jock became Captain America in the Seventies
Reb Brown went from boxing with Ralph Malph to being a superhero.
Today, Captain America is a billion-dollar movie franchise with one of the highest paid actors of our time Chris Evans starring.
But in 1979, Captain America was just a TV movie that cast a relatively unknown actor Reb Brown to star. TV ratings were surprisingly so strong for the two-hour TV movie that the studio promptly cast Brown in the sequel, which aired the next year.
For Reb Brown, an actor with very little experience, becoming Captain America came almost out of nowhere.
He was working as a bouncer in a Pasadena club when an agent approached him.
"This nice little man comes over to me and asks if I can act," Brown told The Commercial Appeal in 1978. "I didn’t know what to do, so I said yes."
Brown was previously a college football player on the same team with NFL footballer O.J. Simpson.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 220 pounds of pure muscle, he made an impact onscreen, playing imposing figures in early Seventies movies and TV shows like Kojak, The Six Million Dollar Man and CHiPs.
MeTV fans might recognize Brown best for playing a jock who boxes Ralph Malph in the Happy Days episode "Requiem for a Malph." Their fight is, of course, over a pretty cheerleader whom Ralph tries to steal away from Brown’s jock character.
Brown said he took on those early TV roles hoping to gain experience, but not entirely confident in his acting talents yet.
"You know, opportunity often knocks, but if you’re not prepared for it, what good is it?" Brown told The Columbia Record in 1980. "I started to prepare myself to get a shot at something, and my chance came along."
That chance was playing Captain America in the only major TV rendition of the comic at that point to focus exclusively on the character.
Right before being offered the role, Brown had actually followed in his police officer father’s footsteps and joined the Sheriff’s Department.
He saw this as a back-up career in case acting didn’t work out, but once he got cast as Captain America, he saw his brief time in law enforcement as another part of his life that ultimately prepared him to take on the crime-fighter role.
"I think that everything I have done as a human being has prepared me for this role," Brown said. "I’ve been a policeman, I’ve been in street fights, I’ve been law-and-order, and I know what it’s like. I know what authority is like. I know that if you handle authority with the proper attitude, and try not to come down on somebody, people will respond and respect that. Just be a human being, and a gentleman, and treat people the way you want to be treated yourself."
According to newspapers, Brown was the perfect Captain America, and TV viewers respected him in the role enough to tune back in to see the sequel.
Brown never went back to the police force, instead acting on TV and in movies through the 1990s. Classic TV fans watched him in hit shows like The Facts of Life, Three’s Company, The Love Boat and Miami Vice.
It’s likely that those Captain America TV movies was his best-remembered role, though, and Brown told The Daily Press in 1979 that he thought all those viewers tuning in to drive up the TV movie ratings turned the dial because they were starved for real heroes in a sea of movies featuring anti-heroes.
"The time has come for heroes," Brown said. "And I think the anti-hero is on the way out. I mean those characters that actors like Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman play. American kids need somebody they can look up to – and I’d like to be that somebody."