Don Most – Even Happier Days for our Featured Artist.

ALEX: This is Alex Wolff, publisher of art magazine Long Island Portfolio. We help artists promote themselves and their art from Montauk to Manhattan. I am zooming with Don Most, We met at the Cutting Room in NYC, pre-covid. Agent Jeff Krasner had introduced us, and Jeffrey Steele was like an earlier act that night.

Don Most at The Cutting Room in NYC
Don Most at The Cutting Room in NYC

DON MOST: What, Jeffrey Steele was there too?

ALEX: Yep, he finished up just as you were arriving and whisked to the green room. Just to get this out of the way, people my age will mostly remember you for Ralph Mauth on Happy Days?

DON MOST: Oh yeah, of course.

ALEX: As Donny Most, and I just wanted get that out of the way because you’ve done so much more since then. And my wife and I were able to do a Don Most Film Festival over the last a couple of days.

DON MOST: Oh, wow! Oh, that’s cool.

ALEX: You’ve got your directing and your movies that you starred in. We got to watch some of those movies, so between your Swing music and the movies, acting and directing, we barely caught up.

DON MOST: Well, that’s great, that’s awesome. I’m glad you got to see some of the films. Did you see one of the movies I directed, Last Best Sunday?

ALEX: So far we watched Moola (and have since seen Last Best Sunday).

DON MOST: Oh, Moola, cool. Okay, great.

ALEX: It was late 2007 or 2008.

DON MOST: Yeah, yeah. That was my second film. The first one was Last Best Sunday. When you get a chance, you should check that one out. Very different… Very different movie than Moola, it’s a pretty heavy drama.

ALEX: It’s on the list. We just didn’t get a chance to watch it yet. (it was indeed very dramatic, sensitive issues).

DON MOST:  And what, did you get to see MBF and Lost Heart?

Don Most in Lost Heart
Don Most in Lost Heart

ALEX: Did not see MBF – Man’s Best Friend yet, but We saw Lost Heart, just three days ago.

DON MOST: Oh, cool, cool. Okay. Yeah, that’s the most recent one.

ALEX: You didn’t direct that, but you did star in it?

DON MOST: Yes, right.

ALEX: And it was interesting, you’re playing a very calm character, you were playing… Is the right word minister for that?

DON MOST: Yeah, he was the pastor, and I’m not quite sure of the difference between a pastor and a minister, but pretty much the same thing. But yeah, I was the local pastor in this small town. And yes, it was a very different kind of a character and an energy that I had to find for him.

ALEX: Where did you find that character?  It reminded me of my Rabbi. It actually reminded me of three of my Rabbis over time. Very concise,  you were bringing everything back to the point always of everything’s going to, really, is going to work out if you let it.

DON MOST: I guess it was a combination of a few Rabbis,

ministers, preachers and priests.  I was Bar Mitzvahed., so I had a Rabbi and knew other Rabbis, and I’ve met ministers or pastors, preachers. And I think what the script, the script fed me a lot. The script really opened up my imagination a lot, because it was so well-written.  And it was And I found this character very interesting.

I talked to the director about about my part early on before we started shooting. I said, “I have a feeling, I think that this guy… ” You kind of create a little bit of a history for a character when you take one on. And I said, “I have a feeling that this guy came to this position as a pastor a little bit later in life.” Like maybe that wasn’t his path early on, and he found it a little bit later. That’s why there’s this element of almost insecurity that he has once in a while, or he wants to make sure he gets it right. He comes up with something and he goes, “Oh, that’s a good one for the sermon.” And then he’s writing it down, and so that helped me. And when the director said, “Yeah, I think that’s a good take,” and we changed the dialogue a little bit to accommodate that.

What I found really helpful for me to get to that place was I was doing a lot of meditation. Guided meditation, because I’ve tried that over the years, off and on, and I never really had a great discipline for it. But I found it to be helpful at times in my life. And so, I was doing that much more than normal, and I felt that would get me to a sort of a calm, like you said, it was a calm, and it slowed my mind down.

It just slowed everything down. And I think that worked for the character.

ALEX: It really did. That’s exactly what I felt that you have, what I would call, quick synaptic responses. Your brain moves very, very quickly. You respond to things immediately. When we met at the Cutting Room, you were meeting so many people afterwards, and you were always immediately engaged, and you were, I’m going to call it slowed to engaged as the pastor, before responding. And your delivery was really purposefully slow. And not what I see as a character as I’ve seen you in other stuff.

His rhythm, his whole… Like this… Yeah, a pacing and an energy, a different kind of energy that I probably should try to adhere to more in life. [chuckle] I probably should take a hint from that.  Maybe I should be meditating more, because God knows with the way the world’s been, it’s been hard to stay calm, and not be anxious and stressed out. So maybe I’m glad we’re having this discussion. I’m going to go back to some of my meditation apps and get back into it.

ALEX: Looking at you as a Brooklyn guy, and an LA guy, you really did manage to bring yourself to a mid-west peaceful kind of guy. And it was a welcome change.

DON MOST: Thank you. Yeah, that means a lot to me. I was very happy to be asked to do this role. It was with a production company that’s based out of Michigan, called Collective Development Incorporated. And it’s a group of artists that has been together for some years now. And they decided, they as a team, would create films. And DJ Perry was the founder of it. He writes a lot of their scripts. He wrote Lost Heart, and I loved the script.

Don Most in MBF (Man's Best Friend)
Don Most in MBF (Man’s Best Friend)

I’d worked with them initially about a year and a half ago in another film called MBF, aka Man’s Best Friend. And that was, again, a very different role. I played a defense attorney representing a wounded vet. And it was a very powerful film, very intense, and I had some really good courtroom scenes. And I got to meet all these people when I flew into Michigan. I got to know them and see the way they worked, and it’s almost like this repertory company in theater, but they’re doing it for film.

They have their main group they find roles for everybody in each film.  They might bring in a name actor or two to help for the visibility of it, but they take care of everybody. And they have great people, artists behind the camera, and it’s a really cool way of working. And so I had such a good experience on MBF, that when they asked me to do another one, I was very happy to do it.

For a long time after Happy Days,

it was tough breaking away from that character. And who could be more diametrically opposed to the pastor that you saw, than Ralph Mauth?  Night and day, the energy of these two guys. And Ralph wasn’t really who I was. There might be elements, certainly there’s elements that are of my own character, come through, but for the most part, he was a very different kind of character than me. In high school, I was pretty quiet and shy, I was never the class comedian by any means. I was always the straight man for all my friends. I was more like a Richie Cunningham, honor student, and pretty, like I said, shy and reserved.

Until I get to really know people and feel comfortable, then it was a different side of me. But Ralph was so… I drew upon a lot of other people to play Ralph. And then you get stuck with, “Oh, that’s who you are,” and it wasn’t who I was. And to me, that’s what acting is about. I love the fact that you get to play different, vastly different types of characters, each one different from the other. That’s liberating to me, I guess, in some ways easier than playing myself.  I don’t know, because you could hide behind these characters.

It took a while, but in these last five, seven, maybe 10 years, more interesting roles have been coming my way because there’s been enough distance and time from the Happy Days years. And I’m certainly in a different age bracket. And so, different kinds of roles are coming to me. And it was great. I was really building up this head of steam, and then COVID hit, and then everything came to a screeching halt. So I’m sort of chomping at the bit now.

ALEX: So let’s talk about COVID for a moment, but not so much COVID.

I think we were either in 2017 or 2018 when we met at the Cutting Room, you were doing your swing music. So not something that everybody knows that you do. You were with William Scoppettone?

DON MOST: Yeah, Willie. He lives in Smithtown.

ALEX: So how did you wind up doing swing?  I think that from a personal interest story, looking backwards, that would be something for people to hea,r how you wound up doing the swing music? Where does that come from?

DON MOST: Well, the truth is, that I actually started pursuing the singing side when I was pretty young. And, more so than acting at first, I loved the music of The Great Standards from a very young age. It started after I saw the movie, The Jolson Story when I was nine years old. I became really fanatic about Jolson, but then I started to educate myself on the music of from those years. And my mom was a teenager, a young adult during the swing years of the ’40s, so there were some great albums that I would hear.

I started listening to that kind of music a lot when I was young, and I’d listen to WNEW in my apartment in Brooklyn, at night listen to a DJ, William B. Williams. He would play all the great legendary artists doing the standards. So I got an education in, and I would go around singing stuff, and I even sang at my at my Bar Mitzvah. There was a band, and I got up and I started doing some Jolson, and people were like, “Oh my God.”

Soon after that, that my parents realized I wanted to pursue this to some degree. So I went to a school in Manhattan for kids and teenagers primarily, and for singing, dancing, a little bit of acting. But it was more of the singing side, and that’s what I was really focused on at the time. I got picked from that to be part of a professional review troop to perform in the Catskill Mountains one summer. So I was 14, 15 years old, turning 15 that summer, singing in all the night clubs in this act, up in the Catskills, summer of ’68.

ALEX: Do you remember the name of the school, or the name of some of the places like Kutsher’s that you might have played up there?

DON MOST: Oh yeah, Kutsher’s… We played every single hotel, Kutsher’s,

Browns, the Pines, The Nevele, Grossinger’s, all of them, except for the Concord. We couldn’t crack the Concord, that was the big one. But we played all the others, and it was a great experience, a great training ground for me that summer. That was kind of my first love, and then I put it aside. After that summer, I decided to get enrolled in this more serious acting class or workshop by a woman named Eleanor Rabb in New York City.

I really shifted my focus into acting and knew the music would be there, I’d come back to it at some point. Because then, even though after later on, when I got Happy Days, and so it was a big hit, and I could maybe use that as a platform for singing, that kind of music in the ’70s was not looked upon.

Big Band and Swing were looked upon as your grandparents music, or your parents music. The music scene in the late ’60s into the ’70s, was what we now call classic rock. Swing music was sort of like for people who had been established doing it, but not for someone younger. So I just kind of put it aside, and it was years later when the Great American Songbook started coming back into vogue. It was becoming more and more popular and accepted, and a lot of people were listening to it.

I started thinking about it, and I guess six years ago, it hit me like, “If I’m ever going to do it, I better do it now.” I actually was in the hospital for 17 days. I had a surgery and we almost had to do a second surgery. Luckily, I didn’t need it. It was soon after that, I think it hit me. I guess having that brush with whatever, made me think, “Hey, you know you love this music.” I love jazz and swing, the Great American Songbook, but especially with the jazz band, jazz and swing and blues. So I said, “If I’m going to do it, I ain’t getting any younger.”

Willie Scoppettone at The Cutting Room in NYC
Willie Scoppettone at The Cutting Room in NYC

So I put together a program. I had met Willie Scoppettone several years earlier, he had asked me to be part of a show that he had put on, and for me to MC. It was like a doo=wop show, and I performed in it. And he got to see me, what I could do musically, and I got to see what he was about. Every great show needs a music director, and Willie has been great. I started putting the repertoire together, and getting the arrangements together, Willie helped as did other people I knew.

I started off doing some jazz clubs out here in LA,

and they went great.  I did some in New York before The Cutting Room, like 54 Below and Iridium jazz club. From there it just started growing in other parts of the country as well.

I cut a CD called “D Most Mostly Swinging,” with this great 18-piece band of wonderful Los Angeles jazz and studio musicians, studio musicians, and our great producer and trumpet player, William Ario.  And so that’s out. It’s been hard to grow because the live performance thing is almost impossible during COVID.

I’ve been dying to get back into doing live performance, more films and television. I just did a short film, which is called When George Got Murdered, and it’s a really interesting film about the George Floyd incident. I don’t know when that’s coming out, and I did some TV prior to that, a pilot called Puck Heads, where I play the owner of a minor league hockey team, so we’ll see what happens with that. Hopefully, that gets picked up. And I’m supposed to do a couple of other films that got put on hold.

Don Most with Vanessa Angel in Puck
Don Most with Vanessa Angel in Puck

I am sort of in limbo,

like so many other people. I am very excited about a film we will be  shooting in Prague. They’re hoping in March to be able to start shooting. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

ALEX: Fingers crossed. Not to give away your age, but you are at an age bracket where you’re entitled to get the shot. Is that something that you’ve pursued?

DON MOST: Yeah, I had my first shot last… About four days ago.

ALEX: You’re doing well?

DON MOST: Yeah, no problems. Sore, it was sore for a day or so, but that’s normal. And nothing really else, I had no other side effects. And I have my second one scheduled in about 17 days.  I’m excited about that because that certainly will open up certain things for me. And as more and more people get them, obviously it’ll hopefully bring us back to a semblance of normalcy. That would be wonderful,  I’m starting to get a little stir crazy to say the least.

ALEX: Yeah. I was doing some stills on a set here just before Christmas, and everybody on the set was getting tested daily. That’s right on site. The magazine is for artists of all kinds, actors, painters, even chefs and so on. I got to shoot and interview actress , fine artist, Maya Frank only because she tested on set, with  no symptoms was positive and could not return to set.

At the end of her two weeks, I got to shoot her artwork for the magazine, and her as well, but she would have been too busy without her quarantine. Eventually, this is going to end. Starting with the vaccine is definitely, I think the first step, and you’ve got a couple of movies planned. What are you hoping to do with the next two or three years as the world comes back to normal?

DON MOST: Great question. Well, if I had my druthers, I’m hoping to get some more really, really nice meaty acting roles in films and television, if it’s the right project. And definitely want to do that. I also want to continue the singing,

Besides the CD that’s out, I was in the middle of recording another CD

with a producer in Nashville. Producer named Tony Mantor, and it’s a little different, it’s not the big band format, it’s more contemporary jazz. Some of the standards, but also some songs from the ’60s and ’70s. I’m really excited. It’s coming along great, but we had to stop, so I’m looking to finish that this spring. Get that out there and then do more live performing, both big band and the more contemporary jazz, maybe some of the classic ’60s and ’70s songs. I love a lot of the music from there too. Acting and the singing, and as you mentioned it earlier, directing. I’ve directed three independent features, and I have several that are in development that I’m trying to get set up.

There was one film in particular that I will be directing. These producers think they have the financing, but we’ll see, it fell through once and now they think they have another source, so we’ll see. I’m hoping to be shooting that film in late spring, early summer, and I’d be directing it. I’ll probably have a role in it too.

ALEX: Is that going to be a West Coast or East Coast?

DON MOST: That would be shot mainly in the Vegas area. A lot of it takes place in Vegas. It’s a comedy, sort of a comedy update of a fairy tale, which I don’t want to give away too much. But a very comedic romantic comedy, and it’s in Vegas and poker’s involved, and it’s really a fun piece, so I’m hoping to be directing that.

I am looking forward more stage work as well. I was doing this new play called Middletown, and we were doing it around Chicago. When COVID hit we had to shut down after two or three weeks. Before that, we were in Atlanta and then in Pennsylvania. It’s a new play.

Interestingly enough, I did a concert in Orlando

at a venue called Full Sail with the Orlando Jazz Orchestra. We had four cameras and multi-track recording, and it came out great. it’s live streaming right now. And for a limited period of time, people can see it. on my Facebook, I have it posted on my Facebook page. It’s being shown through local theaters via subscribers and ticket holders.

The first one that I know that’s streaming it is the Performing Arts Center at Buffalo State. Mostly Swinging is the name of the show, and it’s my full concert. And it’s streaming for a while. And then Middle Town, the play, is also going to be streaming soon through different venues. So people should be on the lookout for that, they could see it on line until we get to do it live again. I love going back and forth between the different mediums.

ALEX: Cool, so I really don’t know that many places outside of Long Island at this point. We do have a couple of performing arts theatres on Long Island that are smaller than arenas.

DON MOST: Great.

ALEX: The Tillis Center, is very close to my house. And they’ve had big names and small as well, both stage performances, musicians, concerts, comedians of all kinds play there, so if you want to come out here, you’d probably be able to schedule a couple of different things in a couple of hundred to a small thousand or so theaters

DON MOST: Yeah, well, that would be great. I would enjoy that. I did perform at a Long Island theater in Port Jefferson, I performed at a theater there twice. And then I also did one in Patchogue. I enjoyed it. We could figure out between all of us, figure out how to make that happen, Jeff knows the island.

ALEX: That’s Jeff Krasner, right?

DON MOST: Yes. Jeff Krasner, he introduced us when he got me the gig in The Cutting Room. We got some great photos!

ALEX: They’re going to be featured. I think what I’m going to do is use one of those as the cover for the magazine in the spring issue.

DON MOST: Yeah, you took some really great photos. I’m into photography, so I recognize that. I have a good appreciation of that.

ALEX: Oh, if you have photos that you want to accompany the article… An interview that you’d have, especially your art photos that you’ve done. I’m happy to include…

DON MOST: Oh, you mean photos that I’ve taken?

ALEX: Or of you or of a poster from a movie, whatever you would like us to include. Normally, I go and I shoot somebody. I’m sorry, I said that wrong. Normally I go and I photograph somebody when we’re doing the interviews, especially go to an artist’s studio or theater, wherever the artist is. And I try to do some very creative, artistic photos. And you’ll see on the cover photo was a photo of the artist that we were featuring in our last issue. But in today’s world, you’re not coming here anytime soon…

DON MOST: Yeah, I can’t do it.

ALEX: And so I’m very happy to use images that you might have or might want to share.

DON MOST: Okay, I’ll look through a bunch of… Yeah, I’ll send you a bunch of stuff. Is it okay? As late as… If I don’t get to it today, tomorrow, is that still okay?

ALEX: Absolutely.

ALEX: Perfect, and when you do wind up going back to Nashville, and it was coincidental, but my interview early this morning was with Sandy Gennaro, who is a friend of mine for about 30 years from Staten Island. And he played drums for Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett, Johnny Winter, The Monkees. A whole bunch of things. And he’s down there. And he’s a good person. And so if you’re down there, I’d be very happy to introduce you, so you have someone to talk to while you’re there.

DON MOST: Oh great. Cool, yeah. Yeah, well that might be fun. It would be fun to meet him. I’ll definitely let you know about that when I’m going. I’m hoping, maybe in May… He’s hoping they’ll be able to get back in the studio safely. But, it’s anybody’s guess. [chuckle]

ALEX: Yeah, so if someone wants to see your stuff, they should look under Don Most?

DON MOST: Yeah, well, on IMDB, it’s Don Most. And on… If a Google search either Don or Donny, and then put in, whether it be singing, because I have a bunch of videos up on YouTube and on Vimeo. Yeah, I guess articles and stuff under either Don or Donny will show up. Some will show up more under one name than the other.

I guess I have a bit of a schizo thing about my name,

but when I was younger, it was Donny, and then I felt like… I was 20 when I first started on Happy Days, and I was still going by Donny. And then when I left the show, I was 28 and I felt like I needed to really try to make the break and to help with the image. I thought it was better, and my agent thought it was a good idea, to go with Don Most and sort of change the image. And so for all billing for TV and film that’s what I use. But for some reason, when we started doing the music, again, a lot of people are saying, ” You gotta go Donny.” And on the music side, I’m okay with that.

ALEX: Yeah, you have to leverage off the assets that you have and Donny Most is a tremendous asset.

DON MOST: Yeah so there it is. So on any given day, I could be either one. [chuckle]

ALEX: So I’m not going to take more of your time. Thank you so much. I enjoy talking to you. When you come out here, I hope we get to meet in person again.

DON MOST: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, let’s stay in touch.

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