Drive In Movies

An environment ripe for shenanigans!

June 6, 2017

drive in theatre

June 6 is an important day in US History. But since we all learned about D-Day in our US History classes (or you can pick up my friend Irene Fernandes wonderful novel ‘They Also Served’ for a firsthand account of a war-bride in England during WWII) I have instead chosen another ground breaking event for the subject this week.

Yes, it was on June 6, 1933, when the first commercially successful drive in movie theatre opened in Pennsauken, New Jersey. The father of the drive in movie was one Richard Hollingshead. From the infallible Wikipedia:

“Hollingshead conducted outdoor theater tests in his driveway at 212 Thomas Avenue in Riverton. After nailing a screen to trees in his backyard, he set a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car and put a radio behind the screen, testing different sound levels with his car windows down and up. Blocks under vehicles in the driveway enabled him to determine the size and spacing of ramps so all automobiles could have a clear view of the screen. Hollingshead applied for a patent of his invention on August 6, 1932, and he was given U.S. Patent 1,909,537 on May 16, 1933.”

The American public, already in love with the automobile, also loved the drive-in movie. They reached their peak of popularity in the 1950’s and early 1960’s when some 4,000 Drive-ins existed throughout the United States.

The phenomenon was not without its detractors, however, and drive in movies – which allowed people to view films from the privacy of their car – were labeled ‘passion pits.’ Teenagers, particularly, adored them as it afforded an opportunity to, well, you know.

1950 cadillacSpeaking of which, there were several drive-in movie theaters in my hometown of Yakima, Washington. One evening my sister and I and two of our friends decided to go to the Fruitvale Drive-in (sadly, no longer there). The car my sister drove was a 1950 yellow Cadillac with a red roof; a hand me down from our grandparents.  This tank of a car had all the whistles and bells popular in 1950 including a gauge which told you how good your driving was. Ok, not really, it had to do with gas mileage, but as children our grandfather told us it was evaluating his driving with an arrow that point to words like ‘poor’, ‘fair’, ‘good’ and ‘excellent.’ But, most important of all, it featured a movable spotlight affixed to the car just outside the driver’s side window. There was a handle inside the car to control the light.

On this particular night my sister and one of her friend’s were in the front seat and me and one of my friend’s were in the back. Our attentions were soon drawn to the activities taking place in the backseat of the car parked in front of us. We watched with intense teenage curiosity as the silhouetted heads of the couple descended lower and lower until they were no longer visible.  Now THIS was interesting (unlike the movie whose name I forget). We, of course, giggled and speculated on WHAT exactly might be going on in that car and then my sister remembered ‘the light.’

“Do it!” we encouraged. So she did. A moment later a blaze of floodlight swamped the erstwhile lovers and you never saw feet flail or heads snap up so fast! We descended into paroxysm of laughter. The light was off a moment later but then we worried that we would be in trouble for the illumination during the movie. A few horns honked in objection of the sudden light and we two residents of the back seat ducked down so as not to be seen. Our prank, however, was not exposed and I do believe the lovers in the other car spent the rest of the movie upright. Talk about coyly ‘interrupt-us’.

If you want to know more about the rise and decline of the drive-in movie theater click on this link:

Do you have a story from when you went to the drive in? Please post it in the comments section! I would love to read it.

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