Who's the Boss?

UPDATED 09/07/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/07/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT

Even back in his prime-time days as Venus Flytrap, the jive-talking, bell-bottomed nighttime deejay on TV's WKRP in Cincinnati, actor Tim Reid was less interested in stealing scenes than in creating them. "We had those huge floor cameras," recalls Loni Anderson, who played eye-filling receptionist Jennifer Marlowe on the show. "We'd be rehearsing, and Tim would be on camera three or up in the booth. He was just fascinated by the process."

Next year the polyester-era sitcom will hit home screens once again on cable's Nick at Nite. But Reid's chief focus will be elsewhere. Even though he still does some acting—costarring on WB's Sister, Sister and putting in a cameo on Showtime's new weekly cable series Line's—he now spends most of his time on the back side of the camera.

Last summer, with his actress wife, Daphne, 50, and two Virginia businessmen, Reid, 53, opened New Millennium Studios, a TV and film-making factory on 62 acres in Petersburg, Va., which has a 15,000-square-foot soundstage, two back-lot sets and a recording studio. "I've been dreaming about this for 15 years," says Reid, the studio's CEO. "It's the end of my rainbow."

At the end of rainbows should be a pot of gold, of course—and Reid is working hard to create his. In only 14 months, New Millennium has cranked out one TV movie, a feature film, eight commercials and the 13-episode Linc's series, an adult dramatic comedy set in a Washington, D.C., tavern. Reid, who played a disillusioned priest in the kick-off show—Daphne appears regularly as a blonde-wigged lady of the evening—is the show's co-creator, sometime director and contributing writer.

But to Reid, all that is merely a good start. Already he is plotting a $6.5 million expansion of New Millennium and has a number of projects in mind, including a TV series—a sort of black Peyton Place set in the rural South. That is familiar turf for Reid. Born in Norfolk, Va., he grew up the poor, self-described "bastard son" of a domestic. His heroin-addicted stepfather "beat my mother constantly," he remembers. "Sometimes she would go screaming into the night, running naked down the street with him in pursuit."

Reid lived with his grandmother for a while, then his father, at times teetering on the edge of delinquency. He nonetheless managed to earn a business degree at all-black Norfolk State College in 1968. Then he began his extraordinary journey to stardom—as a salesman, hawking photographic supplies in Chicago for DuPont. Unfulfilled, he began moonlighting as a stand-up comic and in 1974 headed for L.A. Two years after making his TV series debut—on a Frankie Avalon vehicle—he was sporting a Superfly hat and shades as Venus Flytrap.

When WKRP folded after four seasons, Reid had been through his first marriage and fathered two children (daughter Tori, now 26 and an aspiring actress in L.A., and son Tim II, 31, a record-company marketing director). He also got reacquainted with Daphne Maxwell, an actress he had worked with years earlier in a Sears commercial in Chicago. In 1982, the couple wed.

Over the next seven years, Reid plugged on. He spent four years in a supporting role on TV's Simon & Simon, starred in his own much-praised but short-lived series, Frank's Place, and served as its executive producer. Finally in 1989 he returned to Virginia with Daphne and, for the next year, refused even to own a TV. But he continued to dream, always talking about "ownership, and having as much control as possible over film-making," says daughter Tori.

With that dream now reality, Reid and his wife escape as often as they can to a three-bedroom retreat on 70 acres with Panavision views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 100 miles from New Millennium. Despite the comfort of his life these days, Reid still keeps a jar of change in the master bedroom, along with" packets of seeds, bottled water, canned essentials and survival tools stashed elsewhere—just in case. "Some people would think it a bit odd," he admits. "But I didn't like being poor as a child. I didn't like not having food."

What he does like, of course, is having control of his career—and his life. Gesturing to the nearby woods, where he intends to be buried someday, he says, "The headstone will say, 'Here lies a dreamer.' " He pauses, then adds, "But I'll still be scheming. I'll be saying, 'You know, God, if we just did this with the clouds...' "

David Cobb Craig
Macon Morehouse in Virginia

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