We are discussing Drive-In theaters this week. In case you do not know what they are, they are movie theaters which project the show onto a 6-10 storey-high wall and people drive there cars to a large parking lot to face the wall to see the movie. They had electronic speakers in parking places that you park next to and place in your car window to hear the dialog, sound effects and music; now, I am told, the sound comes through your car radio.
These theaters popped up rapidly in the late 1940’s but had their heyday in the 1950’s-mid 1960’s. Very few are in operation these days.
The very idea of a dark place where people wandered in and out caused many of them to be an idea spot for various nefarious activities. It was a place where many an American teenager spent fun weekend evenings with their friends in and out of cars and the ‘snack bar’. where they hung out, bought candy, popcorn and drinks, and used the restroom. The restrooms use were headquarters for the boys and girls to regroup, fight over boyfriends and girls, you can imagine. Drive-ins were also notorious for couples getting to at least ‘second base’, and there were more than a few ‘backseat babies’ because, well, because forbidden fruit is more interesting than whatever was onscreen.
When drugs became a problem in society, most drive-ins became hotbeds of drug deals and then gang hang-outs and fights. The police were hard-pressed to control what was going on and many people were hurt in the darkened lots where anyone could pull out in cars or get away on foot easily.
But the advantage of Drive-ins and I suppose, the ‘diving force’ behind the idea,(groan), was that families could gather the kids, pay a low flat price for a carload and try to have a good evening .I say “try” because the premise of the Drive-in was what lead to the problems. Kids could snack and talk, play and wiggle without disturbing the patrons in the next seat,(as in a traditional theater), on the other hand, the kids ate and played and talked and wiggled through the movies, disturbing each other and their parents.
We went to Drive-ins as a family a number of times and my memories are of hope it would be fun and the reality falling short. Often young kids would go in pajamas, take pillows and expect a big slumber party, I guess. But I never lost the hope, in fact, my husband and I found one in Colorado and took our infant son to it with us. He slept beautifully in the backseat. I changed him in the privacy of our car. It worked out well but I was disappointed in not only the movie but …I guess I still expected more fun. My husband didn’t want me to go to the restroom alone, but I did not want to disturb the baby; wasn’t that the idea? I remember a bit of an argument. I guess I should have been glad that he was concerned for my safety, but…
Before that I had gone with my sister to take her daughters to see a double feature of “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” in the late ’70’s.I was into my 20’s but was shocked at the goings-on on the screen behind us .It was a double-theater and a famous TV cowboy was in what was basically a porno flick. I spent my time turning my nieces’ heads back to the original screen. When Saturday Night Fever proved to be unsuitable for the girls’ ears and eyes, (and our tastes), we drove off. I noticed that there were a number of cars facing the other screen that were full of children. The theaters did not enforce the rating system. Another reason they were shut down.
But when I was little we went fairly frequently. Sometimes we went to see a ‘family’ movie, but not often. My sister wanted to grow up fast and most of the time, she considered those beneath her. Consequently, we saw a number of Elvis movies at the Drive-in. I’m sure my brother was pleased…I’m sure he was as pleased as we girls were when he twisted my parents’ arms to see all the Biblical epics that came out in the early ’60’s.I slept through most of them.(I remember waking up once to a bunch of men claiming to be Spartacus.)
And I know we went at least once to see a Frank Sinatra movie, “A Hole in the Head”. “All My Tomorrows”, the song that was used in the opening, has always been one of my favorites .I used to sing it when I put my grandson to bed when he was littler.
My father used to like to work and took on extra jobs. One he liked was running movies in theaters and he ran some at Drive-ins in the 1960’s. He had my mother go one night and take my cousin and me with her. The movie made my mother cry and she was embarrassed to take we girls to the snack bar before the second feature. (The movie was “Shenandoah” and it now makes me cry.)
One night, (at my brother’s prodding), my parents decided it would be a good idea to go to the Drive-in to see “The Longest Day”. I was 8; there was no way I was going to sleep through D-Day. I ate, I drank and I was bored. So, with nothing else to do in the dark, I continued to drinking and snacking and you can image the consequence, (since to this day I have the bladder of a 4 year old). My mother often told the story of how she missed all the great actors she went to see because she spent most of the evening back and forth to the restroom with me. She called it “The Longest Night”.
Can you remember any particular or favorite movies at the Drive-in?