The Drive-In Theater, like Apple Pie, Hot Dogs, and Baseball represent pure Americana. Fun for the whole family, and for friends and even dates. Movies combined with the outdoors while relaxing in your own car. This idea from long ago that still resonates with many today. Although its heyday has long passed, it is slowly becoming a popular thing to do again.
It all began long ago with the showing of Two White Arms the 1932 British Comedy Classic film that featured Adolphe Menjou in a story about a man who becomes bored with married life and pretends to have lost his memory so he can pursue other women. It had a different title for American audiences, that of, Wives Beware. The significant thing about this film is that it was the first film to be featured at a Drive-in Movie Theater. It was first shown in 1933.
The concept of a drive-in theater was patented by Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. on May 16, 1933. His original drive-in theater opened a month later in New Jersey on June 6, 1933. Although his own drive-in theater only operated for three years, the idea spread across America, and at its peak there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters in operation. His first advertising slogan was, "The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are." At first, prices for admission was 25 cents for the car and 25 cents per person, but it was quite common to have specials of $1.00 per carload.
The idea of watching movies from your car on a large screen appealed to many. It was a common family night out, thing to do. It was the place to hang out and socialize more than anything else. In fact, the funny wise crack that circulated whenever there was talk of Drive-ins was, 'they show movies there, don't they,' as if to say that the features were not the main point of going. They became especially popular for dates, because of the privacy this setting provided.
If you have never been to one, the theaters are like large parking lots, where you drive in and find an open space in front of a large screen/wall that the film would be projected onto. With each space, you'd drive into, you would park on a small mound, something like a small hill. It put your viewing at an upward angle towards the screen, so that the other cars would not obstruct your view. When parked, there was a speaker for sound on a pole, and you would just hang the speaker from your door window. These drive-in theaters usually had playgrounds for small children and concession stands that sold food and drinks. The fun, food runs, and socializing always takes place between features, and the theaters usually had long breaks between in order to accommodate those at the concession stands.
The theaters usually showed double features, and some even offered triple features for the crowds that liked to stay late. The main feature was often shown first, and that would have been the big Hollywood hits of the day, the other features were the B-movies.
The peak period for drive-in theaters was the 1950's and early '60's, but as color television became more widespread, attendance at these theaters began to decline.
The unique experience of the drive-in theater lives on through classic car enthusiasts, nostalgia buffs, and the curious. It's a slice of vintage Americana personified that can't be missed. Although there are only around 400 of these theaters still in operation, you could probably find one not too far from where you live. These days, they show the modern flicks and the sound is broadcast to your car radio. You can expect to pay somewhere in the area of $20 for a car load today, but the fun and the experience is well worth it.
To my surprise, I recently learned that there may be another 200 theaters opening across the country in the very near future.
Although this experience is mostly associated with America, there are some drive-in theaters in other countries as well, including: Canada - Australia - Germany - India - South Africa & Spain.
Most people prefer indoor theaters with luxury seating, air conditioning, 3D and even 4D, enamored with all of today's technology, and amenities. While some long for the good ol' days of yesteryear, going to a drive-in, is an amazing experience. It's one you'll remember for a lifetime. Here's hoping you'll make some happy memories with your family this coming summer, and find a drive-in near you.
In the comments below, feel free to share your drive-in experiences and be sure to mention the theater, they could use the free mention.
Interesting fact: Shankweiler's Drive-In, in Orefield, Pennsylvania, is the oldest drive-in theater that is still going, and is now beginning its 82 season. So Cool! Long live the Drive-In's