Joe Reich spent a lifetime working with his gut feelings.
Reich, 80, recently retired to Gig Harbor after working over 50 years in the entertainment industry in California.
He worked 35 years as a casting director — 21 of those years with Universal Studios — followed by 18 years as a contracts supervisor for Disney.
“It’s about what (an actor) presents,” Reich said. “The people who are the most successful are the people with self knowledge ... they have the right attitude, a professional attitude.”
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A professional attitude — along with this gut feeling — is what propelled Reich through 65 years since his start in the entertainment industry.
He got his first taste of the business at age 15, during high school in Pittsburgh when he was recruited by a senior girl to help with a talent show she was organizing. The day of the event, the announcer got sick and Reich was tossed into the limelight to take his place.
“When I heard the applause, the acceptance, I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s what I’m gonna do,’” he said.
Reich started taking classes at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. His father, a pharmacist, told him that he could keep taking the classes as long as the Playhouse kept inviting him back.
The people who are the most successful are the people with self knowledge...they have the right attitude, a professional attitude.
“They kept inviting me back!” Reich recalled with a laugh, remembering how impressed his dad was with his first industry paycheck of $50.
“I kept having little successes here and there,” he added. “At 16, I was making $75 a week, which was a fortune back then!”
Reich went on to attend Carnegie Mellon University and earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the drama department, with the goal of being a director.
After graduation, he found himself without a job and still living at home. Reich took a job as a radio announcer for a classical program and then signed for a brief contract after a call from PBS.
After his contract was up, Reich took his $300 and made his way to California, where he snagged a job in the mail room at Universal in 1959.
“I figured, in California if I starved, at least I wouldn’t freeze,” Reich said. “I wanted out of Pittsburgh.”
In California, Reich discovered that it would take him two years to get into the directors union, and switched his focus to casting, which would take him less time to get started. His reasoning was simple: “I know actors. I know talent. I know what makes a good actor.”
I know actors. I know talent. I know what makes a good actor.
By 1960, Reich was casting shows such as “Leave it to Beaver, “Quincy M.E.,” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
He was also one of three founding members of the Casting Society of America and taught an improv workshop for the Screen Actors Guild for 12 years. The highlight of his casting career was working on “The Birds” with Alfred Hitchcock as the casting assistant, and even worked on some “Hitchcock Presents” shows.
“What I like about casting is taking someone and putting them in a role and them being wonderful,” he said. “(But) casting is a lot of pressure and a lot of ulcer-type stuff.”
Which is why — after 21 years at Universal and several years working independently in his own company — Reich relinquished casting and moved on to something he considered calmer: working at Disney. He took the position of contracts supervisor for television animation after a recommendation from the vice president of the Screen Actors Guild.
He remained at Disney for 18 years before deciding to retire.
“I was just tired of working,” Reich said, adding that his wife of 39 years, Susan Powell, wanted to move out of LA and up to Gig Harbor.
The couple moved to Gig Harbor in January, after 40 years living in Hollywood Hills.
I’ve got a real history. I’ve been kind of a medium fish in a medium pond. I’ve had a pretty miraculous career.
“I love the weather,” Reich said. “And I love that here, when the light turns green, everyone stays still (in their cars) and looks around before going. They don’t do that in LA, they just go.”
Though he’s retired, Reich has no plans of being idle. He is working on spreading the word about the improv classes that he teaches for free to adults age 18 and older.
“It’s not standup (comedy), it’s communication,” Reich said of his classes. “My job is to teach you how to reach to get what you want.”
According to Reich, his classes are about communication and connection to help people think on their feet and be more successful both personally and professionally.
“(They’re for) anybody who wants to learn to communicate,” he said. “(For) anybody who wants to be able to deal with anything.”
During his decades in the industry, Reich has dealt with just about everything himself, except a major feature film.
“I’ve got a real history,” he said. “I’ve been kind of a medium fish in a medium pond. I’ve had a pretty miraculous career.”
To find out more information about Reich’s improv classes, contact Reich at firstname.lastname@example.org.