a billy graham center archives exhibit
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Interview with Bill Bright by Dr. Lois Ferm (including a few added comments from his wife, Vonette Bright) on August 1, 2000. From Collection 141, audio tape T774; transcript in box 9, folder 25. Duration: 4:11 minutes.
Image from Photo File: Bright, William Rohl.

BRIGHT: In 1947, Billy Graham was in Los Angeles. And Dr. Henrietta Mears, who was the director of Christian education at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church, asked me to go with her to have lunch with Billy. So that was my first meeting.

FERM: And he was very...very...that was before the 1949 crusade. Yes.

BRIGHT: I was in business at the time and tremendously impressed with Billy. [laughs] In fact, I (foolishly, I guess, naively) asked him if he would be available to give the Easter sunrise message at the [Los Angeles] Coliseum which seats about a hundred thousand. And he said, “Sure, I would be glad to.” And of course, I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was a new Christian and I didn’t know much about how to get a crowd. But by faith I thought we could fill the place. So I went to the col...(he said he would do it)...so I went to the Coliseum committee and told them that I’d like to rent the coliseum for Easter Sunday morning. And they said, “Well, tell us what you’ll do.” And I told them. They said, “Come back in a week and we’ll give you our answer.” Fortunately....

FERM: Did they know anything about Billy Graham at this time?

BRIGHT: Oh yes, I mentioned him. But, of course, they didn’t know Billy then...

FERM: That’s what I mean.

BRIGHT: ...because Bill wasn’t that well known.

FERM: He wasn’t that well known until ‘49, yes.

BRIGHT: They didn’t know any more about him than they did me.

FERM: Right.

BRIGHT: But they didn’t know anything about me either. [both laugh] I came back....

FERM: But you were willing to rent the coliseum and that was business. [laughs]

BRIGHT: So I went to the committee the next week. And they said, “Young man, do you realize what it takes to fill this coliseum?” I said, “Well, I think we can do it, no problem.” They said, “Have you [laughs] ever done anything like this?” And I said, “No. But I’m sure we can.” And they said, “Well, we think if you haven’t had any experience like this, you...you would be well advised not to undertake it.” So I said, “All right.” [clears throat] And then I talked to Billy and canceled, of course. But [clears throat] it would have been a foolish, foolish....

FERM: He wasn’t well enough known yet anyway [laughs] and he hadn’t had any....

BRIGHT: No. If we would have gotten about a thousand people it would have been a miracle.

FERM: And you would have been embarrassed.

BRIGHT: And I would have been embarrassed and he would have been embarrassed. But of course, in those days, I guess any of us would have been satisfied with a thousand people.

FERM: Yeah, right, right.

BRIGHT: But then we met Billy at Forest Home when he had that dramatic experience [coughs] of saying to the Lord, “I am going to, by faith, claim the authority of Scripture.” [in August 1949]

VONETTE BRIGHT: Dr. Mears had invited him for...to speak to a college briefing conference in the summer of ‘49. And it was prior to the...the campaign [in Los Angeles]. And....

BRIGHT: And I was...and I was the president of the college...post-college group....

FERM: ...at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. We need to put that in there.

VONETTE BRIGHT: So that we were...we were all in our mid-to-late twenties.

FERM: We were young, in other words. I was the same age as Billy. [laughs]

VONETTE BRIGHT: Oh boy, It was wonderful.

FERM: Yes.

VONETTE BRIGHT: But Billy was struggling at that time with whether...and he shared, I think, a little bit of that last night on the tape. But there was a young theologian who was a Princeton Seminary student, and was really....

BRIGHT: Chuck...Chuck Templeton.

FERM: Yes, I know Chuck Templeton.

VONETTE BRIGHT: ...pressing...

FERM: Yes, yes.

VONETTE BRIGHT: ...he was pressing that Billy would not have such a conservative view [of Scripture] and take more of an intellectual approach.

FERM: And we know what direct route Chuck did take. And....

BRIGHT: He was a interes...let me elaborate on this here further if I may.

FERM: Surely.

BRIGHT: I was a student at Fuller Seminary while running my business. I had been to Princeton in 1946 and came to Fuller in ‘47 for the first class. And Billy Graham and Chuck Templeton came to speak. Well, I was tremendously impressed with both of them. But if you reme...have you...do you remember meeting Chuck?

FERM: Oh, yes. Billy sent me up to interview him a few years ago up in Canada.

BRIGHT: Well, he was eloquent...

FERM: Very true.

BRIGHT: ...brilliant, articulate.

FERM: He was talented as Billy is, absolutely.

BRIGHT: Just incredible.

FERM: Incredible.

BRIGHT: So here is a good example of a man who has wasted his life.

FERM: Absolutely.

BRIGHT: With all of his talents. He was remarkably gifted. And here is a man, Billy Graham, whom God has honored because of his faith.

FERM: The two paths.

BRIGHT: And they were both outstanding people, but God used Billy because Billy trusted God.

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