Online Originals

Opening Doors

From photographing doors to opening them for others, Daphne Maxwell Reid follows her artistic muse wherever it leads.

-Cecily Knobler
  • Tim Reid

It's no coincidence that Daphne Maxwell Reid has a talent and passion for taking photos of doors, as her entire life is spent adventurously trailblazing through them.

An artist in every sense of the word, she refuses to let her physical beauty be the only thing that defines her.

Sure, she was the first African American woman to grace the cover of Glamour magazine, but that was only the beginning. From an illustrious career as an actress, a photographer, a fashion designer and an ardent advocate for education, (she has a degree from Northwestern University and plenty of honorary degrees herself,) she approaches everything she does with a sense of truth and an enthusiastic desire to constantly grow and learn.

What first drew you to the entertainment world?

I was discovered as an actress while I was in college. I just did it because it was fun, they were paying well and I do have a smile! That led to doing catalogues in Chicago where I was living, after I graduated. Then I started modeling and doing voiceovers. I had a heck of a career doing that for awhile!

Then I got discovered again as an actress by Robert Conrad. He put me in a series he was doing in Chicago called The Duke. After I moved to L.A., Robert put me in another show that led to an agent that led to my career on television.

What was the TV show in Los Angeles?

That was called A Man Called Sloane.

Not long after, you appeared on WKRP in Cincinnati. Is that where you met your husband (actor Tim Reid)?

I'd actually known him in Chicago! No bells or whistles back then! But after I moved to L.A. and was divorced, he was also divorced. A lot of Chicagoans hung out together. One of my buddies said, "Do you remember him?" And I'm thinking kind of?

So we had what I thought would be a five minute date, and it lasted five hours. And it has now lasted 38 years!

You worked for over 10 years before landing the role of Aunt Vivien on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  What did it feel like replacing the original actress?

I didn't consider myself replacing her. It was a job and I was just going to work!

How did the cast treat you?

They were so open and the most loving group - they're still family! James Avery - I just fell in love with him when I auditioned! We just hit it off so beautifully. And his family and my family got to be such good friends. We traveled together - he and his wife and me and Tim. It was a great time and I'm so glad our paths crossed!

I'm so glad I got the chance to work with such wonderful people and to see a work ethic like Will Smith. It was very rewarding.

Switching gears to your visual art. You're also an accomplished photographer. Tell us about that.

I started taking pictures at a very early age. My father had been kind of an amateur photographer. He took pictures during the war and he had lots of slides during World War Two. He always had a camera and the family is very well documented, growing up in New York.

Then when I was traveling with Tim - when we were doing a lot of things for CBS - we would travel the world doing things like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. And I was always taking pictures. I didn't know what I'd do with these pictures, but sometimes I'd show them to my friends.

My friends here, who I was working with in Virginia, were connected with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. And they saw my photographs and said, "You should show this in a gallery!" And I'm thinking, "You have to be an artist to do that!"

So on my 60th birthday, I woke and said, "I am a photographic artist!" And then I went about figuring out what that meant.

Did you have a theme for the kind of photographs you liked to take?

The subject matter I chose was doors. I don't know why I chose that. But over the process of becoming this photographic artist and figuring out what my artist statement was, it dawned on me that I'm a curious person who loves adventure! And I take advantage of opportunities as they come. And what better metaphor for life is there than a door?

I also have an architectural background because that's what I studied in college so I have an eye for detail. And I just so happen to have a lot of pictures of doors and that's what I did.

People would book me to tell my journey story and I kept telling the same stories over and over. And then I thought, I should write this down! I created my first book and decided to learn how to publish. And I published my first book. It has just been a journey of growth and exciting adventure in seeing how far I could stretch myself.

Any favorite photos you've taken?

I have collections I'd consider my favorites. My most outstanding and best received photo is the cover of the first Doors book: the red door that's on the side of a winery in Veneto. It's the Villa Barbaro Winery in Veneto and it was just a little outhouse, kind of offshoot on their property. It was just breathtaking and it has been my best seller!

Speaking of breathtaking, you have a fashion line.

I've always made my own clothes since I was about 10 or 11 years old. I made my own gowns and suites wardrobes, sometimes for shows.

I have a certain Chinese silk attraction. I started wearing a lot in Virginia and people would stop me on the street and ask "Where did you get that?" And I'd say, "I made that!" And they'd say "Oh make me one!" And I said, "No!"

But my husband started working with a woman he's helping to brand and she's a designer. And he said "We're gonna have a fashion show and I want you in it - doing your line."

So I made about 10 or 12 of these coats in different colors. And they marched down the runway here in Virginia and we sold a couple of them right off the runway. And I thought, okay, maybe I will start making these in a limited edition.

I consider them wearable art. I custom make each one and I really treasure seeing the person in it! It's like putting jewelry on someone. I just love that process.

It's personal to you.

Yes and I don't want to do 20 a week. So I'll do them at my pace and I'll take in the customers as I desire and see where it leads me.

As someone who throws their personal touch into everything, tell us about the cookbook you're also working on.

As you get older, you realize you're given these gifts for a purpose. And you have to figure out what to do with these gifts.

I've had a wonderful life with all of these people who I work with in show business, all of our social dealings, and we talk about food! And they give me recipes.

My mother was a great cook and we had traditional food I tried to carry on for Thanksgivings with my family. We've been making this cookbook for about 35 years and giving them as gifts. They've been bound by hand and finally, I said I'm going to tighten this up, make it a memoir and publish it. And I finally did that and this cookbook is the journey for 2018.

You're a strong voice for education. What matters to you most in that respect?

Tim and I started a scholarship foundation with his university back at Norfolk State in the late 80s. We used to raise funds with a scholarship weekend, called "Celebrity Weekend." We would bring the folks we were working with to Norfolk and raise funds playing golf and tennis. We'd have performances by lots of folks - James Brown was one!

We sent about 30 kids to college with that scholarship. It was called "The Diamonds in the Rough" Scholarship. The kids needed just a little helping hand, so we'd mentor them and make sure that they understood the power of giving. And once they got where they were going, to give back also and keep the tradition going.

I spent eight years on the board of Virginia State University. I ended up being the secretary for the last few years. And I've become very involved with making sure that colleges adapt their education process to the times. To make sure that the money these kids are spending on college now can be monetized once they get out.

I want them to learn something that they can earn a living doing. Not just information, learn how to think, learn how to process and learn how to create something within your desire.

Right. Taking philosophy classes are great, but how do we teach students to translate that into jobs in the real world?

I say TAKE the philosophy class, but also to learn to do something with your hands! I don't want to negate either one, because I'm a big arts advocate. But they've got to figure out a way to balance both of those to make a whole life.

As if there's any time left in the day, is anything else you're working on?

I'm gonna do another line of something in April. I understand my husband is doing another fashion show. I'm still deciding what that is, but I kind of have an inkling that I might do a men's version of something in this Chinese silk!  

For more on this and Reid's other work: Click here