James 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 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.”
In high school, the subjects Reynolds enjoyed most were English and History. With a small student body, there was never any shortage of extra-curricular 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 theatre 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 theatre groups as well.
Reynolds enjoyed campus life but, after all the travel 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 headed 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 experiences and background in journalism to land a post with the Topeka Daily Capitol for which he wrote on theatre, film and music. It was here, over a period of almost two years, that he met and interviewed many film and TV stars on tour with stage plays and he resolved to pursue a professional career in acting. When he learned a few years later that a new repertory was being organized in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he auditioned and was accepted. Reynolds played major roles in a number of productions when, 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 pursue other acting jobs in the area. Soon, he landed his first television commercial as well as a featured role in “Mr. Majestyk,” which starred Charles Bronson and was filmed in Colorado.
Finally moving to Los Angeles, Reynolds soon amassed an impressive list of primetime 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,” “227” and “Hart to Hart,” he co-starred with Vincent Price in CBS’s “Time Express” and appeared in such films as “The Magic of Lassie,” “The Foundation” and “Hotline.” Continuing his interest in theatre, he organized and ran the Los Angeles Repertory Theatre for seven years.
It’s not many acting hopefuls who get the chance to personally quiz the likes of Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas 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 a 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’s “Days of our Lives” and “Generations” will attest.
Reynolds made his first appearance as stalwart police captain Abe Carver on “Days of our Lives” in 1981. After nine years, Reynolds moved to the new daytime series “Generations” to play powerful business tycoon Henry Marshall. He was rewarded for his commanding portrayal with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. With the subsequent demise of that series, Reynolds was invited to return to “Days of our Lives” in 1991 where his character was upped in rank to Commander. He is has since been promoted to Commissioner, Salem’s top police honcho.
As the top law enforcement official in Salem, the mythical community which is home to “Days of our Lives,” Reynolds was involved in virtually every storyline on the show. His role began to pick up steam from a “baby-switch” storyline in 2002. Michael Logan of TV Guide wrote of Reynolds, “Playing a salt-o’-the-earth police commander who discovers his wife is a scheming adulteress (and a baby switcher to boot), Reynolds was near-Shakespearean in his rage. But make no mistake: This is a performance full of sound and fury signifying everything, including the fact that Reynolds… is one of our greatest, but most misused, resources.” Reynolds’ role as Abe Carver continued to expand until he found out in 2003 that his character would be the first of ten victims of the show’s serial killer storyline.
Despite his heavy schedule on the series, Reynolds still finds time to head Free State Productions, a film and TV production company involved with documentaries, movies and music videos, as well as making occasional appearances on stage in Los Angeles. He starred in “Buffalo Soldier” at Theatre/Theater in a taut drama about black U.S. Army troops in the American West following the Civil War for which he was nominated for an NAACP Theatre Award. He also starred with other Vietnam veterans in the acclaimed drama “Tracers,” 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.” The show, written and performed by Reynolds, is a commentary on the African-American experience from the time the first slaves were brought to this country up to the present day.
In addition to starring on “Days of our Lives,” Reynolds and his wife, actress Lissa Layng, own and operate the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena where the couple co-starred in Oliver Hailey’s “And Where She Stops Nobody Knows.” They won the Los Angeles Valley Theatre League ADA Award for best actor and actress in that comedy for their work and have been named Business Persons of the Year by the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and one of Pasadena Weekly’s One Hundred Most Influential Couples. Reynolds has also turned his talents to directing. His productions of “The Tangled Snarl” and “Murder Me Once” were named “Critic’s Choice” by the Los Angeles Times and Backstage West in 2004.
Deeply committed to his charitable work, Reynolds hosts an annual celebrity basketball game that raises money for South Pasadena’s High School basketball team and/or the Pasadena chapter of Ronald McDonald’s House. Reynolds has also toured with the USO to the Mediterranean, Europe, Kuwait and Afghanistan to meet and show support for our troops overseas. He also participated in the first USO Celebrity Education Program, traveling to Kaiserslautern, Germany and Iceland where he spoke with students regarding the importance of staying in school.
Reynolds is still an active sportsman, enjoying basketball and racquetball on his days off. The Reynolds’ make their home in suburban Los Angeles.