‘Happy Days’: One Jock Went On To Become Captain America

by Caitlin Berard

After the superhero boom of the 2010s, it’s hard to imagine a time when superheroes weren’t at the forefront of Hollywood. But in the late 1970s, Marvel wasn’t even close to being one of the largest franchises in Hollywood history.

Marvel movies and TV series date back to the ’40s. However, the company wasn’t yet attracting the world’s biggest stars to its productions. So when a Captain America TV movie began to take shape, Marvel reached out not to Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds but to Reb Brown, a guest star on the classic TV series Happy Days. And at the time he was cast, Brown actually wasn’t acting at all. Instead, he was a bouncer at a club in Pasadena.

In an interview with The Commercial Appeal in 1978, Reb Brown explained how he was cast in Captain America after guest-starring as Rebel E. Lee in the episode “Requiem for a Malph” on Happy Days. Rather than seeking out the role, it was offered to him out of the blue. “This nice little man comes over to me and asks if I can act,” Brown explained. “I didn’t know what to do, so I said yes.”

Thanks to his broad frame and muscled physique, Reb Brown was no stranger to playing brawny characters. However, this would be his first major role. He was no doubt nervous to accept the opportunity, but said that he was prepared for a big break.

“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.”

‘Happy Days’ Actor Reb Brown Discusses Preparing for ‘Captain America’

Coincidentally, shortly before Reb Brown took the role of Captain America, the Happy Days actor started down the path toward a career in law enforcement. As his father was a police officer, he felt confident that a career with the Sheriff’s Department would be a good fit for him. Only if his acting career failed, of course.

After earning the role of Captain America, Reb Brown considered his training as a police officer to be excellent preparation for playing fictional crime fighter.

“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.”

“The time has come for heroes,” Brown continued. “And I think the anti-hero is on the way out. I mean those characters that actors like Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman play. American kids need somebody they can look up to – and I’d like to be that somebody.”

Reb Brown’s hard work and determination paid off and his wish came true. He not only played Captain America/Steve Rogers in the first Captain America TV movie but was also cast in the sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon.