‘Three’s Company’: Billy Crystal Auditioned for Major Role on Show

by Joe Rutland

Imagine if comedian Billy Crystal was the one to fill the Jack Tripper role on “Three’s Company.” You know, it really almost happened.

Crystal auditioned for the role on ABCs half-hour comedy in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately for him, he lost out to John Ritter who joined Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers in filling out the main cast.

At the time, Billy Crystal was making a name for himself on talk shows and celebrity roasts. He would famously perform his impersonation of world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali at a Dean Martin celebrity roast in Las Vegas.

That moment, along with other nightclub dates at the time, were helping Crystal get his name out in the public.

Crystal Joins ‘Soap’ After Missing Out On ‘Three’s Company’

But all was not lost for Billy Crystal. He picked up a rather key role in another 1970s sitcom called “Soap.” The show ran from 1977 to 1981, also on ABC.

Crystal plays Jodie Dallas, who happens to be the son of Mary Campbell and first husband Johnny Dallas. Jodie is an openly gay man, which was an interesting role for Crystal to play at the time.

On “Soap,” he starts dating a football player who has not revealed his sexuality to the public. Later, though, he fathers a daughter named Wendy with Carol, an attorney who seduces him at Jodie’s aunt’s murder trial.

When “Soap” comes to an end in 1981, Jodie ends up believing that he’s an old Jewish man named Julius Kassendorf after a failed hypnotherapy session.

Meanwhile, “Three’s Company” had a successful run on ABC from 1977-84. Ritter appeared in every episode of the show. DeWitt appeared in pretty much every episode, too. Somers was fired over a contract dispute after four seasons, then was replaced by Jenilee Harrison. The sitcom was popular on ABC, yet ratings began slipping and the show was canceled.

Don Knotts Backs Somers’ Demands On ‘Three’s Company’

As noted, Suzanne Somers was fired from the popular sitcom due to contract demands. She wanted more pay than ABC executives were willing to give her.

One person who was in Somers’ corner was co-star Don Knotts. Knotts had joined “Three’s Company” in the show’s fourth season, playing Ralph Furley, their building manager. He filled the role left by Norman Fell, who went to the spinoff show “The Ropers.” That show only lasted one season.

Knotts, who millions of people remember from his days as Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” also fought for a pay raise during his time on the hit CBS show.

Somers asked for a pay raise after four successful seasons. Ritter was being paid $150,000 for each show. Meanwhile, Somers was being paid $30,000 an episode. During the entire situation, Knotts was there for Somers.

“Don empathized with Somers, who was, in his view, being punished for seeking a raise, a scenario Don himself had experienced a decade earlier with the producers of ‘The Andy Griffith Show,'” according to Daniel de Visé in his book. He wanted a raise after five years of poor pay but was denied his request as well.