Activism through the Arts: Meet Veteran Actor Tim Reid

As a 90’s kid, I can’t look at Tim Reid without thinking of him as the dad from Sister, Sister. However, after getting a peek into his remarkable life on a recent episode of TV One’s Unsung Hollywood, I had to learn more! Tim Reid is an actor, producer and director whose career has spanned over four decades. His integrity shines through his work. Here are a few facts about his life:

As a 90’s kid, I can’t look at Tim Reid without thinking of him as the dad from Sister, Sister.  However, after getting a peek into his remarkable life on a recent episode of TV One’s Unsung Hollywood, I had to learn more! Tim Reid is an actor, producer and director whose career has spanned over four decades.  His integrity shines through his work.  Here are a few facts about his life:

1. He overcame a tumultuous childhood.

Timothy Isabel Jr. was born on December 19, 1944 in Norfolk, Virginia.  He was named after his mother’s fiancee who was a soldier in World War II.  In 1948, his mother married a man who became abusive and would frequently beat her in front of Reid.  His mother feared for his safety, so she sent him to live with his aunt who ran a brothel. Reid would provide entertainment for the patrons by dancing for nickels. In 1953, Reid went to live with his maternal grandmother back in Virginia who sold alcohol illegally and ran an unlicensed boardinghouse.

2. He worked for Martin Luther King, Jr.

After falling in with a bad crowd, Reid went to live with his biological father, William Lee Reid.  While living with his father, he was recruited as a bodyguard for Martin Luther King, Jr.  He credits Dr. King with changing his life.  He became involved with the Civil Rights Movement, straightened up his life, and graduated high school.  He enrolled in Norfolk State University in 1963.  That same year, he also attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  He later became President of the Student Chapter of the NAACP at his university.

3. His entertainment career started unexpectedly.

In 1968, after graduating Norfolk State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business/Marketing, he went to work for DuPont, a well-known chemical company, as a marketing representative.  He was the first Black person recruited by the company from a Historically Black College or University.  While at Dupont, he met a white insurance agent named Tom Dreesen while working for an outreach program in local schools about the ills of drug use.  Reid and Dressen’s presentations were so well-received, the men formed a comedy team and toured nightclubs with their act called “Tim and Tom.”  It is believed to be the first interracial comedy duo in the United States.  “Tim and Tom” toured together for about six years before they each decided to move on to other projects.

4. He worked on the Richard Pryor Show.

In 1977, Reid was cast in Richard Pryor’s 10-episode sketch comedy series called the Richard Pryor Show.  Reid and Pryor related over their similar background of poverty and abuse.  Interestingly, they both spent portions of their childhood in brothels.  Reid cites the show as being a strange experience that broadened his views on the possibilities of artistic creativity.  In that short time he was able to work with young comedy legends like Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney,  John Witherspoon and Robin Williams.

5. He fought against stereotyping in his iconic role on WKRP in Cincinnati.

In 1978, Reid was able to land the role of Venus Flytrap, an energetic disc jockey, on WKRP in Cincinnati.  Upon his initial audition, Reid recognized the character as a stereotype with little substance.  He actively fought against this and argued that he should be allowed to control his character.  The director eventually agreed and Reid was able to not only act as he saw fit, but also write several episodes in the series.  In one episode he co-wrote called “Venus and the Man,” he encouraged a gang member to leave street life behind and return to high school.  Several teachers’ organizations lauded the episode. Scenes from the episode were remade in comic book form and featured in Scholastic magazine.

6. He frequently collaborates with his wife, Daphne Maxwell Reid.

Reid married model and actress, Daphne Maxwell Reid on December 4, 1982.  Mrs. Reid was the first Black woman named Homecoming Queen at Northwestern University and the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Glamour magazine.  She has appeared in several television shows and movies, but her most famous role was as Vivian Banks (the Second Aunt Viv) on the 90’s television classic, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  The duo started appearing in shows together as early as WKRP in Cincinnati.  When Mr. Reid became a regular on the television series Simon & Simon, playing Lieutenant Marcel “Downtown” Brown, Mrs. Reid was cast as his girlfriend, a television reporter named Temple Hill.

tim-reid

7. He executive produced and starred in Frank’s Place, a critically acclaimed television show in the 80s.

In 1988, after a brief hiatus from acting, Reid executive produced and starred in Frank’s Place, a comedy-drama set in New Orleans. The show chronicled the life of Frank Parrish (Reid), an African American professor at Brown University who inherits a restaurant in New Orleans. The show lasted 22 episodes and was critically acclaimed. He received an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series.  TV Guide ranked Frank’s Place number 3 on it’s 2013 list of shows canceled too soon.

8. Long before Tyler Perry, Reid opened his own film studio.

In 1996, while working on the television series, Sister, Sister, Reid and his wife started New Millennium Studios in Petersburg, VA.  The facility was a 14,850 square foot studio that resides on almost 60 acres.  At their studio, which was sold in 2015, the Reids created 14 documentaries and several television shows and films were shot there, including parts of Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed film, Lincoln.  Though the Reid’s sold their studio in 2015, they continue to create in smaller spaces and mentor others in the film making industry.

9. Legacy Media Institute is Tim Reid’s way of giving back.

In 2011, Reid formed Legacy Media Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to educating young filmmakers and artists on the entertainment business.  Prior to selling his studio, he would invite young artists attending Norfolk State University, Virginia State University, and other local universities to use the facilities of New Millennium Studios.  After selling the studio, his wife commented that the Reid’s would continue to work to ensure the students would have access to the equipment and space they needed to continue to learn and grow.

Information attained from:

Leah Small, “Movie making couple Tim and Daphne Reid sell New Millennium Studios”, Published on Jan. 7, 2016, http://www.progress-index.com/news/20150507/movie-making-couple-tim-and-daphne-reid-sell-new-millennium-studios

Michael B. Kassel, Museum of Broadcast Communications, Reid, Reid “U.S. Actor/Producer”, http://www.museum.tv/eotv/reidtim.htm

Tim Reid’s Biography, http://www.simon-and-simon.info/laurasappreciation/timreid.HTM

Michigan Chronicle,”Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid, a talented and enduring couple”, http://michronicleonline.com/2014/12/03/tim-reid-and-daphne-maxwell-reid-a-talented-and-enduring-couple/

The Richard Pryor Show, http://www.tv.com/shows/the-richard-pryor-show/

Tim Reid Productions Inc., http://www.timreidproductions.com/biography.htm

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

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