It's not many acting hopefuls who get the chance to personally quiz the likes of Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, Madeline Kahn, Ann-Margaret and Peter Fonda on how to make it "big" in Hollywood, so when a young James Reynolds got the opportunity, he grabbed it. Having studied journalism in college, Reynolds spent time as a film reviewer for the Topeka Daily Capitol and, as part of his duties, interviewed a number of filmdom's brightest talents. Reynolds' research has paid off as viewers who have seen him regularly on NBC-TV's "Days of Our Lives" and "Generations" will attest.
After serving as stalwart police Commander Abe Carver on "Days of Our Lives" for nine years, Reynolds moved to the new series, "Generations" in 1991 to play powerful business tycoon Henry Marshall. He was rewarded for his powerful portrayal with an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. With the subsequent demise of that series, Reynolds was invited to return to "Days" where he has been promoted in rank to Commander and named the top law enforcement official in Salem, the mythical community which is home to "Days". Reynolds has subsequently established Abe Carver as the longest running African-American character in television history, and Reynolds, of course, the only African-American actor to portray a single character for so many years.
In high school, the subjects James enjoyed most were English and History. With a small student body, there was never any shortage of extracurricular activities and, in addition to performing in many school plays, he became very active in sports, playing football, basketball, and track.
Following graduation from high school, Reynolds joined the Marines. After boot camp he was assigned to the Information Service Office where, first stationed in Hawaii, he became a reporter for the service newspaper, The Windward Marine. Later he was sent to Vietnam and served for almost a year with a variety of units in and around Chu Lai, adding battlefield reporting to his combat duties, until a wound resulted in his discharge.
Returning to the States, Reynolds enrolled in Topeka's Washburn University, majoring in pre-law and journalism. Advised that the best place on campus to meet girls was the theater department, he began auditioning and performing in plays. In addition to his improved social life, Reynolds reaped another unexpected benefit -- he discovered a passion for acting. He went on to appear not only in regular campus productions of musicals and dramatic plays, but with local theater groups as well.
James enjoyed campus life but, after all the traveling he did in the service, he often became restless and took periodic breaks from his studies in order to travel the country. Working the docks of Houston, the orange groves of Southern California or hopping freight trains in between, he got a unique look at the U.S. before deciding to leave school permanently and head to San Francisco where he worked as an actor for a time.
A few months after landing in San Francisco, Reynolds' life took another turn. Finding it necessary, for family reasons, to return to Kansas, he used his experience and background in journalism to land a post with the Topeka Daily Capitol for which he wrote on theater, film, dance, and music. It was here over a period of almost two years, that he met and interviewed many film and TV stars. It was here that he resolved to pursue a professional career in acting.
When he learned a few years later that a new repertory company was being organized in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he auditioned and was accepted. Reynolds played major roles in a number of productions until barely through its inaugural season, the company went broke. Undaunted, Reynolds simply walked into the offices of the Colorado Springs Sun and landed another newspaper job as entertainment reviewer and feature writer, a job which still allowed him time to investigate other acting jobs in the area. Soon, he landed his first national television commercial as well as a featured role in the motion picture "Mr. Majestyk", which starred Charles Bronson and was filmed in Colorado.
Finally, moving to Los Angeles, Reynolds soon amassed an impressive list of prime time television and motion picture credits as well as becoming one of the foundation blocks of "Days of Our Lives". In addition to guest spots on such series as "Seinfeld", "Highway to Heaven", "Room 227", "Hart to Hart" "Nero Wolfe", and "The Dukes of Hazzard", he costarred with Vincent Price in the CBS series "Time Express" and appeared in such feature films as "The Magic of Lassie", "The Foundation", "Hotline" and "Welcome to LA" and the soon to be released video "Tracers". Continuing his interest in theater, he organized and became the Managing Artist Director of the Los Angeles Repertory Theater for seven years.
Despite his heavy schedule on the series, Reynolds, along with partner Morey Sullivan, still finds time to head Free State Productions, a film and TV production company headquartered in Kansas, and to make occasional appearances on stage in Los Angeles. He starred in "Buffalo Soldier" at Theatre/Theater, a taut drama about black US Army troops in the American West following the Civil War for which he was nominated for a NAACP Theatre Award. He recently, costarred with his wife Lissa, in Oliver Hailey's "And Where She Stops Nobody Knows" at their own Fremont Centre Theatre. Last year he starred with other Vietnam Veterans in "Tracers" the acclaimed drama, which was conceived by John Difusco and created by a group of actor/veterans in 1980. When time permits, Reynolds tours colleges in his one-man show, "I, Too, Am America", a commentary on the African-American experience from the time the first slaves were brought to this country up to the present. James and Lissa are also the Artistic Directors for the, aforementioned, award winning Fremont Centre Theatre.
Reynolds, and his wife, actress Lissa Layng Reynolds own and operate Classes Unlimited a learning center in South Pasadena, California, where one can enroll in such classes as "How to Write a Romance Novel", "Rapid Spanish", "Basic Bookkeeping", "Gold Prospecting", many computer classes, and a variety of other classes. The South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce recently named James and Lissa Business Persons of the Year. And the Pasadena Weekly has named them as one of the one hundred most influential couples in the Pasadena area. Reynolds was raised in the small farming community of Oskaloosa, Kansas. "It was great growing up in a small town," he recalls. "The town's entire population came to only eight hundred, at that time, and our lifestyle was generally one of peace and quiet, disturbed only rarely by an unexpected event. My grandparents told me of the time they were held hostage overnight by several escaped convicts from the nearby Leavenworth Federal Prison. That, of course, was the exception to the rule and it was the biggest news event to occur in Oskaloosa within anyone's memory when I was growing up there."
In fact one of Reynolds' greatest honors is being named to the Kansas Historical Society's list of famous Kansans, a list that includes such notables as President Dwight Eisenhower, Amelia Earhardt, Langston Hughes, Barry Sanders, and many others.
Deeply committed to his charitable work, Reynolds has been involved in more than 300 fund raising events in the last ten years. He annually hosts a "Bowl-a-thon" in Los Angeles to benefit the National Asthma Center and a celebrity basketball game in South Pasadena for the city's schools. Haven House (a home for battered women and children in Pasadena), the PTA, YMCA, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, The National Asthma Center, The National Jewish Hospital, the Boy Scouts of America and numerous other national and local charities and service organizations have recognized James' work with awards and commendations. Reynolds, Lissa, their son Jed and other members of their family have established Big Men Stuff; a company that utilizes clothing items with slogan embroidered on them (such as: Big Men Don't Hit They Hug) to help in the fight against abuse.
James' son, Jed is a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
James is listed in Who's Who in Entertainment, Who's Who African-Americans, Who's Who in Business, and Who's Who International.
Reynolds is an active sportsman, enjoying basketball and racquetball on his days off. He, his wife Lissa and son Jed make their home in suburban Los Angeles.