Centre admission officer acts up

January 18, 2004

Here's a question for you: Can you link Centre College to the actor Kevin Bacon in the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"?

Give up? David Dewitt, class of 1983 and associate director of admission at Centre, worked on the '80s TV show "Moonlighting" with actor Bruce Willis, who acted with Demi Moore in several projects. Moore starred with Kevin Bacon in the movie "A Few Good Men."

Through Dewitt, Centre easily reaches Bacon and several other actors, even Ashton Kutcher. Dewitt worked on TV and movie projects that starred Willis, Madonna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Al Pacino, Warren Beatty, Cybil Shepherd, William Shatner, Jeff Bridges, Robert Urich and Andy Griffith.

Dewitt was an "extra" actor in Hollywood in the mid-'80s. He developed his acting chops as a Centre student. A double major in drama and psychology, Dewitt was at first cautious about participating in Centre's drama program.


"A story I'll tell prospective students is that I came from a high school that had no drama program," he said. "It was something I wanted to try, but I worried that I would stick out like a sore thumb among the other students from elaborate high school drama programs. I shared my concern with a Centre professor and he told me that college was one place where it was OK to fail. You have to go out on a limb and find out what you're really good at, whether you fall on your face or not. I think that reflects the culture of this campus."

Dewitt was a well-rounded student. The Owen County native participated in theater and was also an offensive lineman for the Colonels' football team.

"I had the build of a wide receiver and the speed of an offensive lineman, so we went with my speed," Dewitt said with a laugh.

"My senior year I weighed 183 pounds, and it took a lot of effort just to weigh that much."

Upon graduation Dewitt worked at Centre as an admission counselor, but he still had the itch to act. In 1986, he and his wife moved to Lancaster, Calif., outside Los Angeles. Before leaving, he contacted several Centre alumni who lived in the area. One wrote back an extensive letter detailing the best areas to live and things to do. Dewitt also contacted Jaunita Thomas de Cordova, a 1940 graduate of Centre. Her husband was Fred de Cordova, producer of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

"I wrote her a letter and said I was a Centre alum and asked for advice," Dewitt said. "She wrote back a nice letter on Carson Productions letterhead and said for me to call her and she'd like to meet me. I did, and we had tea at her Beverly Hills home."

Perhaps his biggest thrill was being an extra in Star Trek film

Dewitt jumped right in and took acting classes. He was an extra - an actor with no speaking parts - in a few low-budget movies, but breaks were right around the corner. He worked as an extra in several hit TV shows, including "Matlock," "Hunter," "Moonlighting" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Perhaps his biggest thrill was as an extra in the movie "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989). The movie was directed by William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the series.

"As a kid I wanted to be Captain Kirk," Dewitt said. "In the movie, I took orders from Captain Kirk, so that was pretty fun."

Extras were usually best served not to speak to the stars, but Dewitt approached Shatner during the shooting.

"He was extremely nice," Dewitt said. "He asked me where I was from and I mentioned I had attended Centre College. He said, 'Oh yes, I know Centre College.' I later visited him at his farm in Versailles."

Dewitt was getting to work on big-time productions, but he wasn't sure if acting was for him. He had not yet landed the leading roles he was looking for. "I had to figure out what my goal was," he said.

Dewitt called Richard Felnagle, a former drama professor at Centre.

"I asked him if I was nuts," Dewitt said. "He said if my goal was to be a star, I was in it for the wrong reasons.

"The time in California was for me to figure out what my goal was. I finally concluded I wanted to be Harrison Ford. I think I wanted to have some control over what I was doing. But you don't have that control unless you're rich and famous. There are only a tiny percentage of actors who have that ability. No matter what gifts you have, there's a lot of luck and happenstance."

Dewitt decided it was time to move on. A Centre classmate, Dave Weber, '83, lived in California and helped Dewitt pack his belongings.

"I was kind of afraid he'd think I was a wimp for moving back. He told me, 'You've been in a 'Star Trek' movie - what's left?'"

Dewitt became an admission counselor at Kentucky State University and also worked in admissions at Georgetown College before returning to Centre in 1998. He has no regrets about going for his dream.

"I'm approaching the age that if I hadn't given it a shot, I might be experiencing some mid-life disappointment."

His acting experience also helps him work with prospective students.

"I often talk about the many opportunities out there for them," he said. "It's hard to identify the typical Centre student by one activity. They're multi-dimensional."

Carey Thompson, dean of admission and student financial planning, said Dewitt's background is a plus, and he's retained some of his skills.

"David uses his good nature, easy humor and a bit of theatrical flair to make students and their families at ease with Centre and the college admission process," he said. "And if you're ever in need of a good laugh, have David do his imitation of a cat with a hairball."

For information on Centre's drama program, go here.

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