Inspiring People

Actor, Producer and Director, Tim Reid

Tim Reid

Actor, producer, and director Tim Reid has committed himself to projects that show American blacks in a more positive light than are generally seen in Hollywood through his Tim Reid Productions company.

As an actor Reid is best remembered for playing cool disc jockey Venus Flytrap on WKRP and for his sitcom Frank's Place. Fans of the crime-drama Simon and Simon will remember him for playing Lt. Downtown Brown.

Reid first appeared on television in Frankie Avalon: Easy Does It. He then worked on The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Hour and The Richard Pryor Show. Reid also starred in the sitcom Sister-Sister.

He made his feature film debut in Dead Bang.

As a director, Reid debuted with the acclaimed Once Upon a Time...When We Were Colored. He also produced two feature films, Out-of-Sync and Spirit Lost.

Tim lives in Virginia with his wife, actress Daphne Reid.

I am always appreciative when I have the opportunity to learn something new, to discover something interesting. But I am beyond appreciative when presented with the rare opportunity to learn, discover and laugh all at the same time.

Tim Reid’s sense of curiosity, along with his undeniable charisma and unique ability to share information in a way that is both interesting and fun, is no doubt one of the special secrets to his success.

DR: Tell me about your life and about your work.

TR: My current project is the book that I have just written. We've been on tour for about two and a half months and I'll be on tour for just about two weeks before Christmas.

The book is called Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White. It's a chronicle of my early days in show business when I teamed up with a White gentleman by the name of Tom Dreesen. He and I became the first Black and White comedy team, of any significance, in American history. We were together for six years.

The book was a labor of intense investigation and at the time that we were doing it, I wasn't too sure of what would be left after we spent a year and a half delving into our past -- I am not one who likes to look back. For ten years Tom pestered me and finally his passion overwhelmed me and I gave in. I am glad now that we did it. It was very cathartic.

We were fortunate enough to have a guy by the name of Ron Rapoport come on board. He put the book into a narrative form that I think is very unique.

It's not a book that is just about two guys, it's really about the history of America during some very turbulent times and we sort of "Forest Gump" our way through it. We'll be promoting it for awhile and see what becomes of it. I'm very proud of the effort.

Right now my passion is sculpting. I have been doing that for about five years. It came late in life and I have found that I have a real aptitude for it. I am an apprentice sculptor in clay right now. I have been fortunate enough to have been admitted to Florence Academy of Art so I spend my summers now in Florence studying with the masters.

I am in the process now of looking for a space and raising some funds to create a workshop where I, along with other students of sculpting in the old style of sculpting, can come together with masters and continue to work. That's what I would like to do for the remainder of my life.

On a business level, we still have the studio and we are in the process of deciding what we are going to do with that. We do a lot of documentaries. I am doing one now over in Africa that I have been working on for two years about the incredible history of Cape Verde and its relationship to the Transatlantic slave trade.

I am also going to be doing a documentary on someone I discovered. I have discovered that a Black Moor ruled Florence for about six or seven years, probably around 1537. He was the last Medici. He was the bastard child of the cardinal Giovanni de' Medici. I discovered him in the Uffizi while walking around with an historian. His mother was a slave within the Medici household and he was eventually recognized by the then Medici Pope and went on to become one of the governors of Florence (a tyrant but, nonetheless).

One of my creative goals is to chronicle the forgotten history of people of the African Diaspora, not just Black Americans. I have done three documentaries in Cuba, one in Brazil and I want to do one in England. I have found it fascinating in the early history of the New World as well as the old world, how Black Africans have played an important role in history with regard to the economic, social and socio economic structure of Europe and the far East and seldom do we hear their stories.

DR: That sounds really interesting. Those are the kinds of films that I would definitely be interested in seeing. I didn't know about the Moor who ruled Florence and I'm sure many of us would be fascinated by the history of Black people and the contributions they have made.

TR: Well that's the thing.

We had here in Virginia, about two years ago, the commemoration of the founding of Jamestown. Governors Warner and Kaine insisted that we make the commemoration diverse. It was made so diverse that even when Queen Elizabeth came over, she remarked that the thing that impressed her most about the commemoration was its diversity. The whole point was to begin to chronicle the involvement of Blacks and Native Americans in the development of America

I was walking through this exhibit here in Virginia, which is an exhibit about the first twenty Blacks who came to America as indentured servants. They came from Angola. This whole exhibit is based on what Angola was like at that time and how these twenty Blacks came over and, as you come out at the end, there is this twenty foot statue of this Black woman. I looked down at the plaque and I was shocked to see that it is Njinga. Now, Njinga was the warrior queen of Africa. Njinga is an actual Black warrior. She is the only warrior in the history of Africa ever to defeat the colonials. Even Shaka Zulu was defeated. Her husband who was king was killed by the English in a battle and she took over, and not just ceremonially -- she fought! She personally killed the enemy. Njinga beat the English into submission and into a peace treaty, and she ruled thereafter for another ten to fifteen years in what is now Angola and parts of Nigeria.

Now, why is it that in schools, young Black girls in America and Africa, are not inundated with the story of this warrior woman? Why is it only in Virginia that I see this statue? Why haven't we honored this woman with movies or cartoons? When I learn about stories like this, I think that it's got to be told.

DR: I remember having that same reaction when I first learned about Toussaint L'Ouverture and of how he defeated Napoleon and came up with, what is now known as guerrilla warfare…

TR: Yeah! And, I understand why the dominant culture doesn't tell these stories. It's because it's not in their interest. But what frustrates me is why we, those of us in our business, don't do it. That's what really frustrates me. So I've decided that whenever I can, I will raise my own money. My goodness! It's got to be done!


Tim Reid, an accomplished actor, writer, director and producer, co-founded New Millennium Studios alongside partner and wife Daphne Maxwell Reid in 1997. New Millennium Studios (NMS) is a partnership between the Reids, Mark Warner and Armada/Hoffler, as well as the culmination of a lifelong dream for the husband and wife team.>

The Reids spent many years flying between coasts for their demanding careers in the entertainment industry, but always had envisioned relocating to Tim's home state of Virginia. Finally, in the summer of 1997, the dream became a reality, as Hollywood welcomed Virginia's first full-service studio complex to the entertainment community of film, television, music videos and commercials.

New Millennium Studios is Virginia's first and only full-service studio complex. The site opened July 12, 1997, and is situated on 60-acres in central Virginia, 25 minutes south of the state capital, Richmond. Petersburg is a colonial town nestled along the Appomattox River where two of the nation's major highways, Interstate 95 and 85, meet two miles north of the studio. The studio has completed construction of Phase I, which consists of 40,000 square feet of production facilities, including a 15,000 square foot sound stage, post-production facilities with digital effects, virtual-reality, and computer animation (2-D and 3-D) capabilities, as well as editing suites, a recording studio and a fifteen acre backlot.

The Petersburg, Virginia and surrounding communities stand strongly behind the Reids and their efforts to stimulate the local economy. NMS has not only brought new life to the area, but also various jobs and career possibilities to the Virginia citizens, who are more than willing to go the extra mile to support any of the studio's efforts.

Just one year after inception, the studio has already been the site for several commercials, including GMC, Chevrolet, and the Virginia Lottery, as well as music videos. Also, various television specials have been shot onsite, such as TNT's "The Day Lincoln Was Shot," BBC/Discovery Channel's feature length documentary, "LBJ: The Road to War," a PBS Abraham Lincoln documentary, directed by renowned filmmaker David Grubin, Tom Clancy's "Netforce," the feature film "Asunder" and Showtime's television series "Linc's."

July 12, 1998, marked the one-year anniversary of the opening of New Millennium Studios, in which the State of Virginia and the City of Petersburg invested a combined $560,000. Based on guidelines used by the Virginia Film Commission, the growth and impact of production on the state economy and regional film business was reported to the Governor's Office and the Department of Economic Development. New Millennium Studios injected $15 million into the Virginia State Economy within the first year of its inception.

Click here to visit the New Millenium Studios website.

DR: What would you say is most relevant about your personal story today?

TR: What I have discovered is that my story is no different than many people of African descent raised in this country. It is a story of survival. Many of us have forgotten that we are a people of survival. We have become victims in our mentality and in our own thought patterns.

What I say about my life is that I stand as a testament to survival because I have no earthly right to be where I am and to be as successful as I have been. I am the only member of my family to have finished high school, let alone college.

I come from poverty. From birth I almost didn't survive. My life has been a real interesting lesson in survival. I forget that at times. When I finished the book, what I realized is that I have earned the right to be here by the mere fact that I have survived. I am a cancer survivor and I look back from that and think "My goodness!" Like that in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

"Who is that guy?!"

I celebrate my survival.

DR: I was talking to someone just this morning about survival and I made the assertion that every person's got the will deep down inside to survive adversity and then I caught myself and decided that's not true.

TR: It isn't true. They have the capability but many of us have taken on the role of victim and it's tragic.

DR: Do you think that survivor vs. victim might have to do with literally reconciling a fear of death?

TR: When I went through my potential death by cancer, I wrote something called A Glance at Death . The essence of the piece is just that - what you said. I consider that I looked the grim reaper in the face and I found a compromise. The compromise was not, "I'm not going to die". The compromise was, "Not Yet".

I have not earned the right to die yet because I have not fulfilled my destiny. If you still have fight in you, if you still have a sense of passion, if you still have dreams then you are not ready to die yet.

It came down to my choice, and that is what cancer is - you either fight or you die. It ain't a whole lotta options. It ain't an "almost kinda thing". You choose to either fight until you can't fight anymore. I chose to fight and I was successful in my battle.

So, the peace that I have with death now, is that I am not afraid of it anymore. I accept it. Death basically said to me "Okay, I'll see you later". And I said "Okay. And while you're gone, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of myself".

No, death, I will not fear you, for you are as old as the void from which you came.
I choose to stand and fight, it is my will; it is my right, strengthened by life's purpose.
Be that my soul is found on the battlefield, bathed in God's light.
Be that it is written that when death conquers my body, I was not afraid.

- Tim Reid

When death does come I will face it fearlessly and with pride that I have lived my life the best way that I could. I'll accept it. I have earned the right to look death in the face and deal with it on my terms.

DR: Do you consider yourself to be an optimist or a realist?

TR: I am both of those at different times of the day and at different times in my life.

There is a wonderful movie called Venus starring Peter O'Toole. In the movie he is asked by a very young girl who he is flirting with, if he could tell her what, of all of the things that he had had in his life, what had been the most rewarding. And he looked at her and said "pleasure". A bell went off for me when I heard him say that. I said to myself, "That is the one thing that, for the rest of my life, I am going to focus on having".

I want to enjoy the process of life more than I did before. I struggled and fought too much before. In writing the book, I learned that about myself. After Tom and I did our part, Ron went back and interviewed people that we had spoke to and spoke about and from them, I got a view of myself that I never had before and I realized that I had run through the lives of a lot of people that I could have been more enriched by, had I allowed the process to go back and forth. It was a one sided see saw instead. I got what I wanted out of relationships, whether it was pleasure or sex or whatever it was, and I moved on. I was in survival mode and now I am in the pleasure mode.

Whatever it is that I am doing, I try and find the pleasure center of it for myself so that I can exist in it and gain from it. Sculpting has really helped me with that.

DR: To say that you are someone who is seeking pleasure could come across as hedonistic. You make it sound more altruistic somehow.

TR: We get caught up in phrases and words. When I do seminars at colleges I talk about propaganda. As soon as you say the word everybody thinks about whatever the media has programmed us to make it mean. We forget that propaganda itself is a very functional and useful word. W.E.B. DuBois said that "All art is propaganda".

When I was studying in Italy this summer, one of the things that I found unbelievably exciting is that the artists who participated in what became The Renaissance later on, were propagandists. They were political. Art was their blog and their way of expressing their frustration against the Catholic Church or whoever was in power at that time. Like Michelangelo's David for instance. I have had the fortunate opportunity to see it many times. It is probably the most beautiful piece of art ever created, but when you look at it from a political sense, you will be amazed at a few things:

David is not circumcised but he would have had to be if he was "David".

That is one political statement.

The other one is that David is twenty something years old but when David slew Goliath he was about thirteen. He had just been bar mitzvah-ed. So why did Michelangelo choose "this person", "this guy"? It had nothing to do with religion or David. It had to do with the fact that the church was going to pay him to do a David and he chose that opportunity to make a political statement about Florence and the Catholic Church.

Leonardo daVinci was also political. He died in Paris after he was run out of Italy because of his political ambitions and used his incredible art against the Medici's and against Florence.

DR: I didn't know that.

TR: Yeah. He wasn't even allowed in Italy. He and Michelangelo were political adversaries. They hated each other almost to the end. So when you get into the politics of art - Palin and the clothes? If that is not art I don't know what is. They have rearranged her look and decorated her in a way to be appealing.

So, getting back to my point about pleasure, I think that Palin is good at what she is doing and believe me if you don't think she is having a pleasurable experience you are crazy. If there is such a thing as an orgasmic experience in politics, she is having it. She is having more fun then she has ever had in her life and so is Obama.

We have been told that seeking pleasure is hedonistic. No it isn't. It is the abuse of pleasure that is hedonistic.

DR: Tell me something that you don't want anyone to know about you.

TR: There is really nothing much that I care whether a person knows or does not know about me. If asked, I would more than likely speak the truth unless I felt that it is to the advantage of the truth not to speak.

If I had the opportunity I would go back and maybe not be as selfish as I used to be. I am really involved right now in living. When you get a second chance at life, if you don't change, then you should die…

(We laugh)

(Laughing) I am sorry. You should die!

There are people hoping to live for two hundred years. I don't! I hope that mankind never extends his life expectancy much beyond what it is now. Look at what we have done with the time that we have now. We have pretty much screwed up the planet and you mean to tell me we should get another seventy years to keep trying? I don't think so. Let's just take what we got, do the best with it and move on.

DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?

TR: That is the best way for me to be remembered is in the words and in the stories of my descendants, as I try to remember my ancestors.

History is very spotty for Black Americans but as I go to Africa and learn more of the history of people who were part of the salve trade I learn what an incredible story it is.

I was in a replica of the Amistad going around the coast of Africa in April. We were going to this old city which was one of the major cities of the slave trade where there is a story that is rarely told. Seventy percent of all of the Africans bought to the new world stopped at this little port and off loaded African slaves. Several ships lined up, all day every day, into one of fifteen churches in a small community where there are more churches per square meter than Rome. In the largest cathedral ever built until about ten years ago, in sub Saharan Africa, they would take these slaves off the ship and baptize them because you could get double the price for a baptized slave…

DR: You're kidding?

TR: I am serious. And they would put them back on the ship and brought them to the New World. Seventy percent of all slaves that came to the New World stopped in this little community.

And I'm on this ship going into this harbor and I am sitting there thinking about how many slaves saw this coast line coming from wherever they came from on their way to the New World and I am looking off of this ship in the same way that they probably did and I'm wondering what that coast line might look like today had the slave trade not happened. Would there be sky scrapers and plants? Would the rubber trade be there instead of over here? Who knows? The best and the brightest of Africa were taken away for over four hundred years. Who knows if they had stayed what Africa would be like today. What would America be like? It would certainly be different.

We have to give respect to the ancestors who proved themselves to be survivors.

DR: So, a hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?

TR: I want to be remembered through the voices and through the stories of my descendents and for being the kind of person who "went for it", that laughed and that loved…

I sat up in church so many times and listened to preachers say that you can't take anything with you. They're all wrong. You can take something with you. What you can take with you is love. And how do you get love? You get love by giving it.

Accumulate as much love from anyone that you can get it from, because that is your legacy. That is what people will remember about you and that is what will cause people -

to tell your story year after year, generation after generation.

Thanks Tim!

Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White

"A beautiful and beautifully told story of two men of character in a tough and unforgiving business who broke barriers with laughter."

Scott Simon, National Public Radio

"I have known Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen as comedians and friends since 1975, but I never knew Tim and Tom, the comedy team. This book is four compelling stories in one compilation: One story about Tim Reid, sad, fascinating and uplifting. One story about Tom Dreesen, a man consumed by a goal and a great witness to a bygone era of show business that one can't help but long for. A third story about seeking recognition in the world of entertainment. And finally, a story about race and culture in a country that should have been farther down the road to tolerance, understanding, and human kindness than it was in the 1970s. Tim and Tom is a great story, the best kind of story, well told, about two men struggling to prove themselves."

David Letterman

"Part showbiz survival 101, part civil rights testimony, the story of Tim and Tom is a moving chronicle of the courage, conviction and commitment it took to wade through floods of bigotry and bias with bell-bottoms. Although racism is no laughing matter, Tim and Tom proved that a little humanity and humor can go a long way to reminding us that people are more alike than they are different."

Tavis Smiley

Click here to learn more and buy your copy of Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White

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