From ‘Dating Game’ to ministry

Published 9:24 pm Wednesday, December 11, 2013

By Frank Roberts

I recently wrote about John Bright, wondering where he is these days. I got a call from his grandfather here in Suffolk, giving me his phone number.

The call resulted in a fascinating story of a young man who moved from movie actor to a “New Dating Game” contestant and thence into the ministry.

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In school, John Bright lived up to his name. He was an A student at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, where he was a member of the track team and a defensive end during 1978’s undefeated season.

Following his years at NSA, Bright got a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Virginia Wesleyan, then followed up at Paul D. Camp with a degree in business administration. Next came a Master of Divinity from Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Bright, now 51, was ordained a minister in the United Methodist Church and served churches in Portsmouth, Richmond and on the Eastern Shore. Since June, he has been preaching the word at Walmsley United Methodist Church in Clarksville.

I remember Bright’s days in Suffolk, when he appeared with me in “The Odd Couple,” portraying “Vinnie,” a beer-drinking card player. The he left for Hollywood, where he worked on “some low budget movies.” Very low, it seems.

“They never got released,” Bright said, “It’s amazing how many movies never got released.”

He remembers little or nothing about any of them, although the photograph from one of his flicks shows him in a highway patrol uniform.

“I was in Hollywood for two years,” said Bright, who once appeared on the “New Dating Game” show, hosted by dancer-comedienne Elaine Joyce.

He was one of three bachelors vying for a date with a brunette bachelorette contestant.

“She asked us to do an impression of a movie star and deliver a line from our first date.” He doesn’t do impressions but recalled the Bette Davis line from “All About Eve” — “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

The talk somehow turned to boomerangs and Bright said he liked throwing them, because, “it often attracted women to talk and ask questions,” to which Ms. Joyce said, “I know the boomerang comes back, but what about the women?”

It all added up to a “New Dating Game” win for Bright.

“She was a nice girl,” he recalled. “But we just had that one date.”

And, what a date — a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

After that, he began pursuing a career in the ministry. His attraction to the job began when he was a youngster attending Magnolia United Methodist Church.

Eventually, he said, “I felt like I had a calling from the Lord. All of my life’s experiences, including the acting, really helped me. I knew how to act, and how not to act. And my education is useful in church finances and counseling.”

Relaxation comes with an old fishing rod.

“My town is on the shore of Buggs Island Lake, and I’m happy. Fishing is my golf. I treat fishing like other guys treat golf.”

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at