Photo by Tim Reid
“Learn about it before trying to be about it.”
Actress, fashion designer, photographer, and former model Daphne Maxwell Reid isn’t finished yet. There is so much more she wants to achieve in her career. Working in front of the camera is just one of them. “Daphne Style is how I express my design passion with all custom pieces,” Daphne says. “I want to be known for all the creative things I do in my life. I continue to strive to fulfill the ideas that come to me.” At 73 years old, Daphne Maxwell Reid appreciates where she’s been and is optimistic about where she is going.
Daphne Maxwell Reid’s first published modeling photo in Seventeen magazine (January 1967). Photo courtesy of Daphne Maxwell Reid.
Daphne grew up in Manhattan, New York, and was raised in the Amsterdam Houses. “They were called the projects,” she says. “It was a multicultural environment full of multicultural things to do. I had a wonderful childhood. I had a mother, father, two brothers and lots of friends.” Even though they were poor, Daphne and her brothers didn’t know it. Her parents instilled in her an appreciation for education. After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science, she enrolled at Northwestern University receiving a National Merit Scholarship.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in interior design and architecture. Throughout her life, she was the first of many—first African American on the cover of Glamour magazine, first Black homecoming queen at Northwestern, and co-owner of Virginia’s first full-service film studio. “I think my favorite first was being my mother’s first and only daughter,” she says jokingly. “But I’ve been breaking down barriers since I was in the fourth grade.” She was the only Black child in advanced placement classes in the fourth through the ninth grades. At Northwestern University, she was 1 of only 36 Black students in her freshman class.
Daphne Maxwell Reid became the first Black homecoming queen at Northwestern University. Photo courtesy of Daphne Maxwell Reid.
Her time at Northwestern was tough. Daphne was called the N-word by a potential roommate after they found out they would be rooming with a Black girl. Daphne chose to room on her own. There were no Black sororities on campus back then and the white sororities didn’t accept her. After a former high school teacher submitted her picture to Seventeen magazine for their “real girl” issue, that photo was placed in The Daily Northwestern newspaper for the homecoming queen competition. Daphne was a finalist along with four white women.
When she was crowned homecoming queen, the president at the time didn’t look her in the eye. After the photo op, he just walked away. No one applauded her. Northwestern didn’t include her crowning in the yearbook because they deemed it unimportant. This was 1967 Illinois. “I certainly was not looking to be crowned but things fell into place and it happened,” she recalls. “It wasn’t a pleasant experience but hey, some things aren’t and you just have to keep on moving.” But Daphne kept climbing. In 1969, Daphne became the first black woman on the cover of Glamour magazine.
In 1969, Daphne Maxwell Reid became the first black woman on the cover of Glamour magazine. Photo courtesy of Daphne Maxwell Reid.
Upon reflection, Daphne doesn’t believe being the first has a special meaning to her personally. “It only has meaning in hindsight because when I am doing something, I am doing it because I want to,” she explains. “I am moving forward towards a goal and if I happen to be the first to do it then so be it.” After not returning to Northwestern for decades, Daphne returned to the university in 2006 to be awarded the Hall of Fame Award by the Black Alumni Association. In 2008, she returned to Ryan Field to crown the homecoming queen. Currently, all of her archives are now available at the library of Northwestern University.
While Daphne was in college, she was a model for the Eileen Ford Agency. She would model until the early 1970s before getting into acting professionally. Daphne got her first big break from actor Robert Conrad. In 1979, she was cast in his shows The Duke and A Man Called Sloane. In 1980 she first worked with her now husband, Tim Reid, on his show WKRP in Cincinnati. And then in 1987, she worked with Tim again on Frank’s Place as Hanna Griffin. The two would later create another show called Snoops in 1988. In the late 90s, Daphne and Tim founded New Millennium Studios, the first full-service film studio in Virginia. Several scenes from Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln were filmed at New Millennium before the couple sold the studio in 2015.
Daphne Maxwell Reid expresses her passion for design and custom pieces through her Daphne Style fashion label. Photo by Michael Hosteler.
Her most well-known role was her role as Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In 2020, Daphne Maxwell Reid was asked by Will Smith to be part of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion. The cast was flown out to Hollywood and stayed in separate hotels to make the reunion even more special. “We all had not been in the same place at the same time in over 27 years,” she says. “So just to see each other all together on the old set was such a kick. It was a joy. It was a warm and very moving experience. We were all glad to be there together because the love that we have for each other is evident.”
This year, Reid will star in the film Trophy Wife. Daphne says the film was shot in Virginia and Maryland and she will play the grandmother of Toni Carter. Audiences can also expect Daphne to perform in the third film in The Business of Christmas series.
Daphne Maxwell Reid is mostly known for playing Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. From left: Daphne Maxwell Reid as Vivian Banks, Will Smith as William ‘Will’ Smith, the late James Avery as Philip Banks. Photo by Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU via Getty Images.
Daphne says breaking into the film industry isn’t easy. “You have to understand that showbiz has two words: show is one of them and business is the other,” she says. “If you are going into the film industry, find out how to be self-employed. Find out how to best support yourself until they call you.” Daphne emphasizes the importance of understanding that the business is much more than acting or directing or writing. “To make a proper film, it generally takes about 100 different people and they really have to work as a team. If you want to be a director, which most young people do, you have to know what the other 40 departments are doing and know that they are doing it well.” Simply put, Daphne believes that “. . . experience in the field is helpful, but if you want to be in the film business, learn about it before trying to be about it.”
Daphne is an avid traveler. This is documented through her photography books of doors she has taken from around the world. Daphne is currently offering a limited edition tote bag made from custom fabrics that feature her door prints.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast takes a selfie in 2017. The cast officially reunited in 2020 for the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion. From left: Will Smith, Tatyana Ali, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Daphne Maxwell Reid, and Joseph Marcell. Photo courtesy of Daphne Maxwell Reid.
Daphne is a creative force, a mother, and a grandmother of three. She loves her family. “My greatest accomplishment was raising a group of very fine people: my children,” she says. “Because when it is all said and done, all we have is family.”