where the writers are
What's New Pussycat?
Circle Star Theater

The upcoming evening performance at Circle Star Theater was disruptive to write the least. After a year of presenting Broadway plays to San Francisco peninsula populations, during the fall of 1965 money was tight and ticket sales had dropped by seventy percent. The theater in the round had 3,743 seats and the sales drop was devastating, and ego popping to the celebrity performers.

To change things up theater management had recently altered its format to include concerts by trendy, stylish and critically acclaimed performers the likes of Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Ed Ames, Jack Jones, Rick Nelson, Dionne Warwick and Johnny Mathis, but they were typical like the declining attendance of the Broadway plays and filling up seats for their week long performances was difficult.

The General Manager and his two assistants were desperate for new ideas to save the theater. They interviewed their young staff for ideas, as well as the six main ticket takers and our twenty ushers who were voluntary high school and college students. They also questioned prop coordinators, light technicians, the sound coordinator, makeup artists, stage crew and advertising salesmen. They also asked the parking lot attendants as to what type of performances they wanted to see.

After a few weeks of sell-out shows on weekends only by old-timers singing, and closing down the theater during the week, management took the eclectic advice by employee suggestions and enacted changes.

Mr. Holter, the theater GM, contacted the agents of new performers and contracted performances the likes of Sonny and Cher, The Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, Sopwith Camel, We Five, Dave Clark Five, and others. All summer long each new performance, contracted Fridays through Sundays had sold out, even a few were contracted during the week and they sold out, too, thus putting the Circle Star Theater financially in the black as well as its name back in Peninsula newspaper columns and on radio station discussions.

As we employees knew, another game changer was about to happen this Friday night, a change that would uplift Circle Star Theater’s motif as the place to go for excellent entertainment, a place where the affluent, performing artists, dancers, writers and better yet, media journalists would connect, junctures that were meant to happen.

As a ticket taker inside the beautifully designed and decorated Circle Star Theater, I’d thought that I’d seen everything during my eight months of employment in the live theater in the round. Responsible for corralling customers into the theater, settling seating disputes, managing intermissions, dealing with accidents like customers fainting and vomiting, keeping the inside theater doors closed during performances and even a hold-up at the ticket window by thieves, I’d thought I’d seen everything until tonight.

Four extra security six guards were hired as suggested by the performer’s manager. After all, Friday night was the lead-in to the weekend and people would be out looking for entertainment, and Circle Star Theater was the Peninsula’s premiere connection to preforming arts. Advertisements for this special performer had been distributed one month in advance by radio, television and local businesses. This was going to be the celebrated performance of the year.

The concert would begin at 8:30 P.M. and crowds of people were arriving at seven. I was inside the theater behind locked glass doors with the other ticket takers. We watched and joked about the commotion outside, of how silly it was to get that excited over one individual. The parking lot staff of six directed drivers to empty spaces, but the huge lot that held five hundred cars was almost full. Late arrivals would have to park in the surrounding neighborhood.

A long line of about two hundred people formed inside the theater at the three ticket windows, and extended outside, down the three steps at the entrance and around the corner along Industrial Boulevard. Only a few hundred tickets were available for tonight’s performance, the rest were reserved and customers were picking up their deserved tickets at the windows.

Then suddenly, a blast of patrons arrived, more like a horde of fans and they rushed the entrance where chaos ensued. Six security guards weren’t enough to control the crowd so the parting lot attendants were summoned to help. Another mass of people arrived. It was as if a cruise liner had anchored then dumped five thousand people at the theater.

I ran to the side window in the theater entrance and watched a convoy of six cars, a long black limo in the middle, edge their way in to the parking lot. The limo was bombarded with fans yanking on door handles, knocking on the darkened windows and trying to stall their movement forward.

Parking lot attendants ran to the rescue, directed people away from the cars and escorted the convoy around the backside of the theater. I was at the back entrance with the door opened awaiting their arrival. The limo pulled up. Ten well-dressed man got out of the cars with two big bodyguards. One opened the limo door and out stepped the fit, handsome twenty-six years young Tom Jones, the full-throated, robust baritone had arrived.

With charted songs like It’s Not Unusual and What’s New Pussycat? Tom Jones, whose name was changed from Thomas John Woodward to Tom Jones, the man who had worked at a glove factory and in construction in Wales, his manager decided to change his name and exploit the popularity of the Academy Award winning 1963 film of the same name. Tom Jones was now the new Elvis Presley and he was even considered the new Jesus, the performer of the decade.

I was impressed. Of course I was impressed with each celebrity that performed at Circle Star Theater, but Tom Jones was different. He was affable and attentive and approachable. He entered the back entrance door dressed in a tight fitting black suit, white shirt and black tie and a tight bulge in his crotch. I didn’t usually look at a man’s crotch, but his was outstanding.

At the same height with me, Tom Jones wore heeled ankle boots that put him at six feet tall, we locked eyes; he winked and smiled, saving his What’s New Pussycat? voice for the stage. I didn’t faint or melt but I knew that thousands of women during the past year had upon meeting his debonair appearance.

I rushed to the main entrance of the theater to prepare for unlocking the front glass doors and was astonished with the overpowering crowed of patrons outside. Local San Carlos police were onsite to contain the unruly throng of about ten thousand people. Their heads extended out into and down the boulevard, resembling a mass gathering of bobbleheads, collectible toys with oversized heads nodding back and fore and springing up and down. Six police cars were stationed with red lights flashing like they were cordoning off an accident area. A dozen police officers were organizing patrons at the front entrance, cautioning them to remain calm and enter the theater in an orderly manner.

We unlocked the glass doors, patrons filtered in, we took our stations at the inside doors and started ripping tickets in half and giving directions to seats. With 3,743 seats and my fingers aching, the theater was full with standing room only within a half-hour, and with over seven thousand unlucky enthusiasts outside wanting to get a glimpse of Tom Jones. Their prayers would go unanswered unless they had reserved tickets for one of his next four performances during the weekend.

After the evening’s concert we were lucky to be admitted backstage, enjoy a few beverages and to meet Tom Jones. That was when my life had changed. My girlfriend of about six months was one of six paid ushers and she was with me in the long hallway backstage when Tom Jones approached us. Before he said a word my girlfriend, with shoulder length brown hair and blue eyes that resembled Elizabeth Tayler's, reached up and kissed Tom Jones on his sweaty lips. He didn’t resist and he didn’t assist. After the sloppy kiss he just smiled. Then my girlfriend stepped away trembling, touched her mouth and introduced me to Tom Jones as her boyfriend. I was her boyfriend and Tom Jones knew it. When he looked at me, I smiled and winked at him. That was my shared moment with Tom Jones, the What’s New Pussycat? of my generation.