The Golden Circle Theatre Party was originated in January 1967 by Fess Parker, best known for his starring roles as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Mr. Parker, a founding member of the Board of Fellows, and Walter E. Schmidt, S.J., Vice President for University Relations, and the newly established Santa Clara Board of Fellows decided to stage a Hollywood style gala. The Golden Circle and the Board have grown in size throughout the years never losing sight of their original goal: “Raise some funds and some friends for Santa Clara University and have a good time in the process.”
As the first show was being planned, some wondered whether the Santa Clara community would support a $100 per person black tie party. The answer was clear…absolutely! After all, host Fess Parker had persuaded Jimmy Durante, Rosemary Clooney and Ed Ames, and the Doodletown Pipers to perform, and the 35 member Board had no trouble selling out the 650-seat Montgomery Theatre. After the show, entertainers mingled with guests at the first ever After Theatre Party.
Parker and Schmidt knew the keys to a successful event – stage a quality show before an enthusiastic audience, make the entertainers feel welcome and appreciated, and couple it with a dedicated, hard-working team of Board members who personally worked on setting up the theatre, staging the show and selling tickets.
In 1971, Fr. Schmidt asked Marty Passetta, a major television producer-director to take responsibility for securing the talent and staging the show. As Passetta said, “Who could say ‘no’ to Fr. Schmidt?” For the next 15 years he flew in from Hollywood with entertainers, musicians, and a skeleton stage crew, all of whom donated their services, and, with the help of enthusiastic and capable Board members who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, put on a first-rate show.
The early years at the Civic Auditorium, Benson Center on campus, and the Hyatt House Mediterranean Center brought Jonathan Winters, Jimmy Dean, Milton Berles, Red Skelton, Lionel Newman, Bob Newhart and even Frank Sinatra to the Santa Clara Valley to raise money to build the University’s Louis B. Mayer Theatre.
As the valley grew and performing artists frequented the area, the Board of Fellows switched the Golden Circle’s emphasis from only a show to an entire evening of fun and entertainment. Beginning in 1985, McCabe Hall at the Civic Auditorium was transformed into an elegant venue for post-performance festivities where guests not only sipped on cocktails and indulged in decadent desserts, but also danced and were entertained by University performers. The current format, an early evening show followed by dinner and dancing at the Fairmont Hotel, was adopted in 1991.
In the years, the Santa Clara University Board of Fellows has grown from 35 to 175 members. It is a diverse group of men and women united in their common goal of increasing the community’s awareness and understanding of Santa Clara University; and while the Golden Circle Theatre Party and its guests continue to raise funds for the University’s endowment, Board members are just as proud of carrying out Fr. Schmidt's challenge to be “friend-raisers”.