Tim & Tom

by Kay Bourne

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday September 27, 2008

Tim & Tom

The revealing back stage bio Tim & Tom/An American Comedy in Black And White (University of Chicago Press) is a close look at America's first black and white stand-up comedy team, Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen, who are credited as the book's primary co-authors. Ultimately, the two men gain lasting fame working alone: Tom Dreesen, who among many TV appearances on top shows, was for 14 years Frank Sinatra's opening act and Tim Reid, now an indie movie producer ("Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored") with his own studio, and a TV actor (Venus Flytrap in "WKRP Cincinnati"), director, and producer "Frank's Place."?

Mr. Reid, who has previously visited Boston for Color of Film Collaborative screenings of his indie movies, will do a book signing at the Jamaicaway Books, 676 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, on Sunday, September 28 at 5 pm as part of the 15th annual Jamaica Plain Open Studios. Reid's New Millennium Studios is located in Petersburg, Virginia near Norfolk where he was born. Dreesen, who hails from a town outside Chicago, now works as regularly as a motivational speaker and sports host as a comedian.?

Importantly, this engrossing eye opener of Reid and Dreesen's years together also benefits from the writing talents and sensibility of NPR commentator Ron Rapoport (perhaps best known for his sports bios). Rapoport's show biz bio experience begins with a much praised book on song and dance actress Betty Garrett, whose Hollywood career suffered, although she never whined about it, because her husband Larry Parks became one of the blacklisted "Hollywood 19" to be brought before the House UnAmerican activities Committee. "Betty Garrett and Other Songs/A Life On Stage and Screen," is also written with an affectionate hats off respect.?

The highly readable "Tim & Tom" at times offers a laugh out loud account of two comedians who crack up at life's perplexing incongruities and perverse truths, while at other times it provides a sobering view of America as the Civil Rights Movement goes into high gear.

Born into poverty and with parents who didn't always offer a comforting start to life, with Tom's early years perhaps the most grueling, the two men forge a friendship when they meet as young adults whose jobs bring them into the Chamber of Commerce organization. When a drug prevention program they develop for school kids brings out their wittiness and smooth interchange, the two men decide to go into comedy. Recalling their years?of striving to get enough work to support their families, the book gives the low down on scrambling to the top of that genre of show biz, while also offering an intimate look at a genuine friendship that bridges the racial divide. They were together for the better part of four years starting in 1968.?

Another of the book's strengths lies in seeing young men make choices, not all of them admirable, and learn from their mistakes as well as from their successes. At one point, for instance, as the comedy team seemed on the verge of a major breakthrough into the big time, a seasoned veteran of the business warned them someone would attempt to break their act up. That it would be suggested to each of them separately that he would do better as a single act.

Tim and Tom shrug that observation off. Yet, sure enough, they meet up with exactly that situation in the person of singer Della Reese, who rebuffed sexually by Tom, turns to romancing Tim. She takes him to Hollywood as her live-in boyfriend. ?

"Frank's Place" fans, and they are in the hundreds of thousands, will also learn, probably for the first time, why the beloved show was canceled after its first season.

Editor’s Note: Tim Reid will do a book signing at the Jamaicaway Books, 676 Centre Street., Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, on Sunday, September 28 at 5 pm as part of the 15th annual Jamaica Plain Open Studios.