The Press Newspaper
He had a Hollywood-sounding name anyway, so maybe it was only natural that
Reed Steele found work as a Los Angeles-based film and television actor back in the late 1980s.
Steele, the director of the Challenger Learning Center of Lucas County, located in Oregon, has worked with Bob Hope, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, James Garner, Scott Baio and Sharon Gless, to name just a few.
“I was a basic actor who tried to do everything,” Steele said. “I worked as a stunt man, I did stand-up comedy, magic, done voiceovers. It was fun. I really enjoyed it. My first couple weeks doing comedy were really tough. You don't know what to expect. Comedy can be a lot of fun if you let go. I modeled myself after Red Skelton and Dick Van Dyke.”
Steele, 54, didn't grow up dreaming of going into the entertainment industry. His dreams usually involved a space suit.
“I was 5 years old when Alan Shepard went up into space (on May 5, 1961),” Steele recalled. “Every kid wanted to be an astronaut, and I was one of them. I had this dream of flying into space.”
Instead, Steele attended Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., from 1974-79 and
studied education, with a double major in technical and performance theater. He also studied actor training at BSU from 1977-80.
“With my love for theater,” Steele said, “I did a lot of performing.”
Steele is currently on the board of directors of the Oregon Community Theatre, and he's also acted and directed with the OCT. Last year, he played the role of Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple, and he recently co-directed an OCT production called Wait Until Dark.
Steele was a school teacher in the Indianapolis Public Schools in the 1980s, but he decided to forgo teaching in the classroom in 1985 to begin performing full-time.
“I started doing programs with Young Audiences, which is an organization that introduces arts education into the schools,” Steele said. “I would perform in the schools, teaching students the art of theatre. I was storytelling in Indiana, New Jersey, Kansas City, New Orleans...
“At the same time I was very interested in aerospace, and I had followed the (NASA) space program through Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and the space shuttle program. When my time came, I found I had a lot more knowledge in aerospace than the average person. I took astronomy in college and did some graduate work in astronomy and astrophysics. I started as an aerospace education consultant with the State of Indiana, and I would go in and teach (aerospace) science in a way in which the students could capture it and learn a great deal more.”
With the performing bug in his system, Steele returned to acting in California, where he had done some part-time acting gigs from 1980-85. From there, he began performing full-time all over the country.
“When I was in college I took broadcasting and I listened to all those old (archived) radio shows - Amos and Andy, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason,” Steele said. “I started collecting as many of those over the years as I could, along with the USO (United Service Organizations) shows.
“One day in 1988 there was an audition for the Hollywood USO, and I was in L.A. at that time. I auditioned for that and got it. Two weeks later I was in a field with a bunch of military guys, making them laugh. We went from Puget Sound in Washington down to Palm Springs, which is where I met Bob Hope. I worked with that program from late 1988 through 1992. We did all the military bases along the West Coast, some with Bob and some without him.”
Steele said working with the legendary comedian “was a real joy.”
“I loved the man,” Steele said. “There are only two people I've ever said 'Mr.' to. One was Mr. President – I met George Bush Sr. in 1989 - and the other was Mr. Hope. I had great respect for him. I grew up listening to him on the radio.”
Steele acted in a 1991 TV series with James Garner called Man of the People. The half hour show was about a con man who was chosen to fill an empty seat on city council. The show, however, was canceled after only 10 episodes.
“James Garner was such a consumate professional and a joy to watch,” Steele said.
Steele worked on a few episodes of the TV shows Homefront, which featured an ensemble cast and lasted about two years, and Early Edition, a show about a man whose newspaper was delivered a day early, enabling him to see into the future. He also did three episodes of the 1990-92 TV series The Trials of Rosie O'Neill, starring Sharon Gless (of Cagney and Lacey fame).
“I worked with Ed Asner one time on that particular show,” Steele said.
In between TV and film gigs, Steele did stand-up comedy in L.A. and worked at B&B Sound Studio, which did post-production sound effects and dubbing for TV shows and animated movies directed by Don Bluth, a former Disney animator. Bluth is known for directing such movies as An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go To Heaven.
“He came to our studio and we did a lot of the voice recordings for them,” Steele said. “We also did a lot of the Disney cartoon shows, like Winnie the Pooh and Rescue Rangers. We recorded the voices for the actor and put them on tape and sent them back to the studio so the voices would fit the cartoons.”
Steele also got to work with Willis, Travolta and Joan Rivers on the movie Look Who's Talking.
“I was one of the recording engineers who recorded the voice of Bruce Willis,” Steele said. “In person, he's pretty much what you see. He was shooting Moonlighting every week over at Paramount. He'd show up at our studio from 7 p.m. to midnight and then go back to work at Moonlighting at 5 a.m.
“I did some voice dubbing work with John Travolta. He was the most wonderful, enjoyable actor to work with. He was really good.”
Steele also acted in one episode of the short-lived Look Who's Talking TV spin-off, Baby Talk, which starred Scott Baio.
Steele's last film acting performance was in the 1993 crime drama Blood In Blood Out, a movie about L.A. gangs that was directed by Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman) and co-starred Benjamin Bratt, Billy Bob Thornton and Ving Rhames.
Steele left California in 1993, but he continued to act and do aerospace work throughout the Midwest for the next four years. He learned about the Challenger Learning Center in 1994, when he was asked to perform a space comedy sketch for a CLC grand opening in Brownsburg, Ind.
“I did some volunteer work for them over the next couple years,” Steele said. “In '97 they asked me to interview for a flight director position in Sacramento, Calif. I got the position and went out there for two and a half years. During that time the director left and I became the flight director after one year. A couple years later, I left for the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland and worked there for three and a half years.”
When Steele was in Oakland, his father had become very ill and Steele realized that his family, including his daughter, Emma, who lived in Indianapolis, needed him to move closer to family. In 2003, Steele was asked to help open the new CLC in Oregon.
“I came back for my family, and for the Challenger, at the same time,” Steele said. “I thought (moving) would help me spend more time with my parents and my daughter. Those are the reasons I chose to come back to the Midwest. I saw my mother and father through the rest of their lives; my daughter, a nurse, will soon be moving to Chicago. Coincidentally, she's also an actor, dancer and singer.”
Steele admitted he hasn't ruled out getting back into show business.
“I'd love to get back there and seek out a new adventure in the motion picture industry,” he said. “I miss performing a great deal. It was a wonderful experience, being able to perform on stage, TV and film. If given the opportunity to do a motion picture or television show, I would jump at the chance.”
For more information on the Challenger Learning Center of Lucas County, 4955 Seaman Rd., call 419-698-1501 or visit www.challenger-lc.org.