Daphne Maxwell Reid, was one of the Black women to work on network television as Aunt Viv on the popular sitcom, Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Reid says that they were a family and they continue to be great friends 30 years later.
Being among the first of a few black women to work in popular television reminds me that one doesn’t choose to be a pioneer,” she says today. “One does what comes next in their journey, and sometimes you happen to be the first to do it and breakdown barriers. I just happened to land in that slot of being first for some things – but being the first doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t seed the growth of a lot more.
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Daphne Maxwell Reid, continues to thrive as a creative entrepreneur and artist, continuing to dazzle anyone who knows her with her bold spirit, grace, and work ethic. One of the first African-American women to make the cover of Glamour magazine and one of television history’s most beloved sitcom moms on, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Reid now balances her acting gigs with her work as a photographic artist, clothing designer, and education activist, demonstrating that it’s never too late to pursue new passions and find new opportunities.
Daphne worked in dozens of television series in the 1980s, guest starring in shows like “WKRP in Cincinnati” (where she first worked with her husband, Tim Reid, to whom she has been married since 1982), “Hill Street Blues,” and “Simon and Simon,” she first took a lead role on the acclaimed series “Frank’s Place,” opposite Tim. But it was in the role of, Vivian Banks, in the last three seasons of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” with, Will Smith, that endeared Reid to a new generation of fans.
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Breaking barriers as Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Myrna: I know that you took on the role of, Vivian banks, in season four. Can you tell us your journey up until that point? And how did that role shape your life and allowed you to, break barriers?
Daphne: That’s Wow, it was another job. I had done a bunch of Back-to-Back series, including the one that you mentioned earlier Frank’s place, and Simon and Simon and Tim and I had worked a lot, and we were getting ready to move to Virginia. And in I think, it was 1989 that the show started being cast and my agent said, we’ve got a show for you to go read for it’s a half hour sitcom with a rap star and I said, No thank you.
So, we moved to Virginia, I saw the fall shows come on and there is the, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and it was so cute. I said, oh, well, go on living doing other things. I was doing projects with McCall pattern company and QVC so I was busy. Three years later I get a call saying we want you to come and audition for the role of aunt Vivian on the, Fresh Prince, of Bel Air. So, I went and I, myself and 200 other women showed up. We had a casting session that went on about two weeks.
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And about the third audition, I got to work with James Avery. And we clicked, I fell in love with that huggable, wonderful man. We remained friends the rest of his life. He and his wife and Tim and I used to travel together during the show when we were off and he was just a dream. I guess that chemistry sold because they hired me to go and become one of that wonderful family. We are truly a family of friends who have stayed in touch all these 30 years.
Myrna: I know it’s been 30 years because Will had he was 22 when the show started and I think he is 52 or older now.
Fresh Prince of Bel Air still popular 30 years later
Daphne: It’s been a while. It’s amazing that the show has such legs and we’re on our third generation of people who come up to me and say, you’re Aunt Viv. But you didn’t know back then, this was 30 years ago. You didn’t know what the reception of the audience was, except by the numbers that you get from the network. There was no social media and all that kind of stuff. So, we were just doing a show. We were having a lot of fun and we got good numbers.
So, they let us continue to do it. And the end of the fifth year, Will Smith, told us that we will only be doing one more season of the, Fresh Prince. He was doing movies. He’s an incredible businessman, and watching him grow from where I started with him to the man that he became, I just was very, very proud of him. So, six years we had our last episode of the, Fresh Prince, and we cried. But we all stayed in touch with each other. Yeah, so that’s beautiful.
Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock
Myrna: So, you and, Will Smith, are still friends did you talk to him after the Oscars? We have this situation the, Will Smith slap, heard around the world, I am so sorry for him. My heart goes out to him. I’ve always admired him because of the huge movie star he’s become and I watched the, Fresh Prince of Bel Air. You know when it was on and the reruns.
So, I’ve always loved, Will Smith. When I read his book, “Will” I kind of understand where he was coming from. As soon as he slapped Chris Rock. I dropped right into that space about him not wanting to be a coward. He starts off his book by talking about being a coward.
So, have you spoken to, Will Smith, since this episode about the, slap on the Oscars? I don’t think he was ever violent. So, what is your opinion of all that slap?
Daphne: I have spoken to him and I don’t share my opinion. I love the man that’s all I have to say.
Myrna: Okay. All right. Well, that’s good. All right. So at least you’ve spoken to him probably offered him some condolences and all that. That’s good. All right. I respect that. One of the things I did before our talk is I went back and I looked at a couple of episodes of the, Fresh Prince, that you were in, so that I can talk to you about a few episodes. And it was really incredible that two of the top 10 episodes that you were in, talked about two things that, Will Smith, did later on in his life.
Will Smith bungee jumping at 50 years old
The first episode on the, Fresh Prince, I want to talk about was when Hillary was being proposed to her fiancé did the bungee jump and He splashed on the ground. And you had this great comeback on that by saying,
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh”
Do you want to talk about that episode? Why didn’t that scare the bejesus out of, Will Smith, why would he do, bungee jumping, on his 50th birthday?
Daphne: Probably because he wanted to face his fear of, bungee jumping. Watching National Geographic shows, you see that? He’s working his way through his, fears, and confronting them and getting over them and getting past them, encouraging people to do the same. So, I’m sure the bungee jump episode on the, Fresh Prince, was sadly funny. If it had happened to anybody that we knew that probably would not have been funny.
Myrna: What about your line “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”. Do you have experience with that?
Daphne: Well, we know in life you win some, you lose some and it depends on how you handle either is where you go on your journey.
Myrna: That’s true. Okay, good. Yeah, because a lot of people, a lot of Christians say that and it’s very true. Once you up once you’re down. We can even use that analogy for, Will Smith, being the biggest movie star and now he is down. The Lord giveth on one hand and the other hand he taketh away, like Denzel Washington said, and devil comes for you when you get to the top. And sometimes you’ve got to be able to resist him.
Daphne Maxwell Reid relationship with her father
Now the second episode that I wanted to talk about, Will Smith, talked about it in his book, is that episode where his father played by Ben Vereen, where he came into his life and then he left and you had this scene where you said
“if you walk out of this kid’s life, again, don’t come back.”
Can you identify with that episode? What was your relationship with your father? Will Smith, had a love hate relationship with his father. His father abused them as a child and what we’re seeing today are the results of that abuse. What was your childhood like?
Daphne: My childhood was idyllic. Mother and father who were loving and supportive. Yeah, my daddy used to spank my behind when he thought I needed it, but I don’t call that child abuse. I call that discipline and sometimes it’s needed maybe once or twice and you get the message. But I had a wonderful father. He was he was a mentor on so many fronts, as was my mother. She is the person that I am striving to become. And I had no problems as a child. I was brought up in the projects as they call them, just low-income housing that my father was able to get into because he was in the army.
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It was a, black community. It was multiracial. It was multi ethnic, it was an exposure to all kinds of people but that’s what New York City was like back in the 50s. So, I grew up in a very multicultural, supportive environment. I am not one whose father left. This episode on, Fresh Prince, was one that made, Will Smith, vulnerable again. They address the same issue in the new show. Bel Air where his father comes back and he finds out where his father has been and, in the new Bell Air, he sends his father away.
But I think from the character’s point of view in the original episode of the, Fresh Prince, there was enough pain and we know what pain he went through when his father first left and we didn’t want to see him in that kind of pain again.
Breaking barriers with relevant storylines on the Fresh Prince
Myrna: Yeah. I mean, you told Will’s father if you walk out, never come back and he did walk out. I guess when the writers put that episode together, they were probably trying to address, a black culture where we all grew up. A lot of us grew up without that experience where you have to have a mother and father in the home. Majority of black kids grew up without a father. Again, when you’re dealing with some, important issues and trying to make it funny.
This episode was very emotional for, Will Smith. And that’s why he talks about in his book, and now you’re saying that they’re still bringing it up in the new, Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Daphne: Yeah, because the storyline is basically the same. But in the hour format, they have the ability to dig deeper into each of the characters and see a well-rounded character, that we didn’t have time to do get a half hour show. We had five different opinions on how to confront this issue. And sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, but as a family, we get a solution to whatever the challenge is.
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Still breaking barriers at 60 years old
Myrna: And yes, your husband played by James Avery was a rock. He was not only funny, but he acted that part very well. And I know that, Will Smith, looked on him as a father figure. So, it was beautiful that you guys we’re a real family. And I think that’s what happens when you work together for you know, five, six years.
Daphne: Not necessarily I have had other series other than the, Fresh Prince, that I’ve been on. And you might be friend one or two people in the show, but it’s never been this close a family with any.
Myrna: Hey, that’s amazing. Now let’s talk about you, transforming your career at 60. You said that you woke up on your 60th birthday and realized that you have been opening doors and, breaking barriers, for younger generations for a long time. What were some of the, barriers, your career has broken down and do you still think that you’re breaking down some, barriers?
Daphne: I think my existence is breaking down a, barrier. Many, many situations it’s nothing more than just educating people that people like me exist. They are not all categorically one way or another. That is a, barrier, to break because there’s a lot of misconception about our community. And we have strived all the years we’ve been in television to show a broader range of our community. Show the people that we grew up with as well and not just the characterizations created by the dominant culture of what they think, black people do, and how they are.
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Fresh Prince of Bel Air breaking stereotypical barriers
We had the freedom on, Fresh Prince, to sit around the table with the writers when we got the scripts and say, no, I think culturally, this is different from where we’re coming from, and they were able to listen and adapt to the cultural specificities that we presented. And it was very respectful and a great place to work. Tim Reid and I have been doing a lot of television since the 70s. And when we had the, the authority, the power to make sure that the people behind the camera reflected what we were presenting in front of the camera.
We took that opportunity to do that. And Tim is famous for creating heads of departments where there didn’t used to be any in the, black community. So, he’s got a whole legacy of changing the camera. What you never saw before, and now it’s so refreshing. I went to work on the new Bell Air for one episode and behind the camera was the most diverse, young, vibrant group of folks, I was pleased. Whatever contribution we made in the 70s and 80s and 90s to make break down, barriers, to make this more normal. I am so pleased that it is expressed at this time.
The black experience is not monolithic
Myrna: Yes, that’s amazing what you said about the, black experience, as a reflection of our true culture and not stereotypical, it’s really interesting that I came to that consciousness just a couple weeks ago. I was on XFINITY and they have a category called, black experience. So, I went on to that category. And everything on there is about woman who can’t pay her rent, and she is evicted and, and all that and I said to myself, why can’t they show a, black experience like the Kardashians. That’s what I want to see. I don’t want to see struggle. I don’t want to see the black person homeless or whatever.
But you’re right what you guys did in in the, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, is you showed a professional, black experience. Beautiful house, everybody was a professional and wealthy living in Bel Air. I noticed that Herman Ainsley played on an episode and his show The Jefferson’s also showed a different, black experience. He’s the other one who started to break those stereotypical, barriers. You got broke down barriers and opened the but the door needs to be wider. Black people, is not all about poverty and struggle.
Daphne: It needs to show all of our experiences we are not a monolithic group. No, we are as diverse as any other nationality, race, whatever. We have a lot of diversity. We have successes, we have failures. So, does everybody so they should show a wide berth? So, people can see that we are not, monolithic. And when we have control of the content, which is something we have continually strived to do. We have control, we have the ability to express those kinds of differences.
Myrna: And even the black actresses, whether they’re actors or actresses, they’re always striving for better roles too, because they always want to pigeonhole you into the, black experience, where you’re, a stereotype. Nobody wants to show a millionaire or billionaire black person in the show. And I believe that’s necessary to inspire our people.
Breaking barriers in black programming
Daphne: It’s changing and a lot of the change is because there are more platforms to show work than there used to be. It used to be only three networks and that was it for if you want to see something on that little box, but now there’s so many platforms and there’s so many people who are taking the helm of producing and green lighting projects that reflect what they want to show.
I had the honor of being in the movie, Harriet, and what was so much of an honor for me. I had only one line but I couldn’t care less. I wanted it to be around a, black female director, a black female producer, a black male designer, a black fashion designer and Cynthia Erivo. I mean, it was such an honor to work in that environment, where you feel the passion from each one of them. To make this one of the best things you’ve ever seen. It was a remarkable working experience that I’ll treasure.
Myrna: That’s amazing. That’s true. And the academy rewarded them. They won several awards. All right so you have been married to Tim Reid for over 40 years, what is the recipe for a successful marriage in Hollywood? Do you still live in LA?
What’s the secret to a successful marriage in Hollywood
Daphne: No we do not live in Hollywood, Okay, in Hollywood we would have been with 40 years by regular calendars, but in Hollywood it would be like 160 years. A lot of people get their egos busted in Hollywood. If you’re not standing on your own two feet, you’re going to have a problem. But what I think our secret to a successful marriage is we’ve learned how to fight fair and we respect each other.
You have to start with a basis of respect because that fire that gets you together in the first place, doesn’t burn for 40 years. With this person who you have chosen to be with, and you cannot change anyone, so stop trying to change people. They are who they are. Deal with it. Well, that goes both ways and always bring something to the relationship.
Don’t go there just to take. Make sure that you have something to give in the relationship, so you can grow together and allow each other to grow in the way that they personally need to grow. Its hard work and takes some effort. It takes learning how to fight fair and perseverance. It also takes some love Yes.
Myrna: Of course, love have to be there else it’s not going to work. But you are correct the love transforms itself from passion just loving being together and doing life together.
Daphne: You have to want the best for each other. I mean, if you start to tear down their desires to grow, you’re really setting a bad example, because they can turn around and tear down your desire to grow and stagnation is not a good component of a marriage.
Myrna: That’s awesome. What are you up to these days? Are you still acting? I see you have 4 photobooks and a cookbook. Can you tell us about those?
Taking photos of life
Daphne: When I take photos, I do things with them. I made tote bags this this year because COVID kept me from traveling and I couldn’t take more pictures. I always do a line of coats and I still do custom coats. I stay busy because I like staying busy. And I have some talents to share and I continue to say share with them. I made masks during COVID I still make masks, I put a HEPA filter in them and they’re safe to wear but they’re also stylish. I make them for donation pieces for different art groups that I work with.
I designed fabrics that I use to make these masks, I designed fabrics for any use. I like to take these journeys of exploration and see where they leave me. And since I turned 60 many years ago, I started my photographic journey and decided that I was going to be a photographic artist. I had to learn what that meant and how to do it. And I started with gallery shows and I started making note cards and prints that you put on the wall and they just evolved into stories that I’ve talked about my travel which into books, which turned into a wonderful, wonderful way to travel.
Myrna: What do you photograph? Is it scenery or people?
Daphne: Only doors I only take pictures of doors.
Myrna: Oh, that’s amazing.
Using Doors as a metaphor of life
Daphne: They are, to me a metaphor for life. I want to encourage people by looking at my doors to see what I saw at that moment because I only take one picture of each door. See what I see at that moment how God lit it. How the craftsmen crafted it. Colors, the texture, noticing the details of your life makes your journey very rich. Don’t go from A to B just to get there, be sure that you pay attention to the details of getting to be because that enriches your journey and makes for a wonderful joyful life.
Myrna: Now that’s a perfect metaphor or analogy to end the transform your mind show, that is amazing. I did not notice that. And I’ve actually never heard that. How many times do we notice a door? We just use it as an entry point. So that’s beautiful if you stop and look at that. I was doing some visualization yesterday and they said that whenever you walk into the door of your house, that you should picture yourself walking into your dream life. I never pay attention to my door and never remember my visualization.
Daphne: You just notice the details in life and it really is enriching don’t just hold that phone and walk around. Open yourself up and live your life. Don’t just look for it to be animated in front of you.
Paying attention to life
Myrna: That’s wise advice. I follow the reaching of Sadhguru and he talked about, paying attention, to your inner world. So, I started doing that, paying attention, because we don’t even pay attention. Everything goes on automatically in our lives and in our body. So what you’re talking about is, paying attention, to things in life and then once you start doing that, then maybe you can bring it internally.
Daphne: Your health depends on you, paying attention, to what your body is responding to. You listen to it, and pay attention to it. It will guide you to what you need for your body.
Myrna: How can listeners connect with you and get copies of your books, masks and designs?
Daphne: www.DaphneMaxwellReid.com The site has everything about me, what I’ve been doing, what I’m going to do, what I’ve done. Join me and look at what I have to serve with what I have to offer you.