HOTSEAT- Unoppressed-- and outspoken: Tim Reid overcame

Tim Reid

Former WKRP in Cincinnati star Tim Reid can trace his success in Hollywood back to growing up in segregated Norfolk, where separate but equal was the law of the land. 

He still remembers the amazement of people in California, when he told them, "Virginia was the only state that would pay black students to go to Harvard to keep them out of Virginia schools."

Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 initially did not change things for Reid. He went to an all-black school, and on to a black college. Along the way came the Civil Rights Act of 1964– and the realization that Virginia was not following the post-Brown law of the land.

As president of the youth chapter of the NAACP at Norfolk State College and a member of the Student Committee Against Discrimination, Reid participated in sit-ins at dime stores and White Castle, and was attacked by police dogs. "It was a very powerful and life changing time," he says.  

Just don't get him going about movies like Mississippi Burning– "gag me" is the expression he uses– and their depiction of oppression and sadness and people hiding.

 "It wasn't all oppression," says Reid. "We didn't wake up every day wondering if the white man was going to come and get us."

There were even benefits. "Many of us learned about public speaking and standing up," he says. "It was a very positive, uplifting time." And after the Civil Rights Act passed, a lot of activists like Reid went into corporate America, he says.

DuPont in Chicago proved the unlikely starting place for his career in comedy. There, he joined the Jaycees and met Tom Dreesen, and the two civic-minded men went around to schools telling kids not to do drugs. "One young lady said, 'You ought to be in show business,'" says Reid.

That part of the story is why Reid will be at the Virginia Festival of the Book March 21 and back in Charlottesville, where he lived for 16 years and still owns land. He and Dreesen have written a book, Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, that details their five years during the late '60s/early '70s as the first interracial comedy team.

Because he was too busy to do it in his 40s, book writing is part of Reid's belated mid-life crisis, he confesses. After he and Dreesen broke up their routine, he went on to success in Hollywood, most memorably as Venus Flytrap on WKRP from 1978 to 1982. 

In 1997, he and wife Daphne Maxwell Reid opened New Millennium Studios in Petersburg. "I was building a studio," he says. During that time came death in the family, cancer, and loss of money– "everything that could be thrown at you in a five-year period," he says. 

At age 59, the midlife crisis hit. "I did would any man would do," he says. "Flee."

And that will provide the basis for his next book, called Hotel Love's House, based on a photo he took in Brazil of "this wonderful sign," he says. "The irony is, it's a flophouse."

Reid lives in a different Virginia from the one in which he grew up, and he's proud of how far the state has come, although he believes the legislature could be doing more to attract filmmaking to Virginia.

"One of the reasons I succeeded in Hollywood," he says, "is whatever Hollywood threw at me, it paled in comparison to standing on a picket line with police with billy clubs and the Klan standing behind them– while we were singing 'We Shall Overcome.'"

And although a younger generation thinks of him as the beleaguered dad of twin teens in the long-running mid-1990s sit-com Sister Sister, he's at peace still being known as Venus Flytrap, more than a quarter century after playing that indelible role.

"It's part of who I am," says Reid. "I knew it could stick with me when I took the role. But it got me on TV in front of America."


Tim Reid will appear at Culbreth Theatre at 2pm Saturday, March 21, host the Authors Reception at 6pm March 21 at the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections (tickets $35), and sign books at 3pm Sunday, March 22, at Barnes & Noble.

Age:  64

What do you like best about Charlottesville? The relaxed life style.

Least? The rapid growth and loss of the relaxed life style

Favorite hangout here? Barnes & Noble and the Downtown Mall

Most overrated virtue? Its relaxed lifestyle 

People would be surprised to know about you: I sold my Mercedes and bought a tractor. I loved my tractor.

What would you change about yourself? I'd do better with what natural gifts I have to work with.

Proudest accomplishment? Becoming a sculptor.

People find most annoying about you: My outspoken nature

Whom do you admire? Anyone who dares to dream and has enough passion to proceed

Favorite book?  James Hillman's The Force of Character

Subject that causes you to rant? The current mediocrity of TV programming. I dislike all reality shows, well, with the exception of America's Next Top Model. 

Biggest 21st-century thrill? The election of President Obama

Biggest 21st-century creep out? The election of G.W. Bush

What do you drive? I avoid driving like the plague.

In your car CD player right now: Make that my iPod, and I would say: the soundtrack from the film, Cadillac Records.

Next journey? To Korea, Guam, and Japan to visit our troops. I don't think enough black entertainers go over to visit with our young men and women in the military.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I can't say...I'm not sure the statute of limitations has run out. 

Regret: That I didn't enjoy my victories as much as I suffered through my losses.

Favorite comfort food: Anything Italian

Always in your refrigerator: Beer

Must-see TV: America's Next Top Model...hey, I like looking at beautiful women.

Describe a perfect day. A great breakfast, a good workout, my hands in clay, production work on a documentary, a nice dinner with wine (Brunello 2001), loving intimacy with my wife, watching Jon Stewart, a few pages of a good book, a restful sleep.

Walter Mitty fantasy: That I am a successful singer

Who'd play you in the movie? A younger me

Most embarrassing moment? Standing dumbfounded and without the ability to speak in front of the beautiful actress, Nancy Kwan, who was my first movie star crush.

Best advice you ever got? "If you can fake sincerity, you've got it made."

Favorite bumper sticker? I don't brake for S#*T!