Monday, May 18, 2009
Now that the weather’s warming up, let’s go to the drive-in. Nothing says car culture like a drive-in movie. Above is an ad for the Air-Line Drive-In in Chicopee, Mass. from May of 1950, featuring Humphrey Bogart in “Tokyo Joe” (1949). The excellent Cinema Treasures site notes that this drive-in was built in 1952 (obviously an error if the ad is from two years earlier), and closed in 1984.
Another great website “Drive-in Movie.com” notes that Massachusetts had one of first drive-ins ever to open, the Weymouth in 1936, and during the peak years of the 1950s had 90 drive-in theaters. This astounds me considering our winters. Not only are drive-in theaters of necessity, seasonal, here, but must surely have required a great deal of maintenance in the spring after six months of weather havoc. Only about five remain in the Commonwealth today.
The ad boasted that the Air-Line had the largest screen in America, but I don’t know if that’s true. The second feature was “Make Mine Laughs” (194) with Ray Bolger, Dennis Day, Joan Davis, and Jack Haley.
On this day while you could see Humphrey Bogart at the Air-Line (so named for the thunderous military planes flying over from the so-close-you-could-spit-and-hit-it Westover Air Force Base), you could drive the family car over to Boston Road in nearby Wilbraham instead to the Parkway Drive-In (only a mile down the road from a Howard Johnson’s restaurant, yum) and see “The Untamed Breed” (1948) with Sonny Tufts and Barbara Britton in a double bill with “The Big Sombrero” (1949) with Gene Autry AND free Shetland pony rides for the kiddies. According to the Cinema Treasures site, the Parkway opened in 1948 and closed in 1987.
Another great site, “DriveInTheater.com” posts this list of early drive-ins begun from 1933 through 1939:
Drive-In Theatre: Camden, New Jersey. June 6, 1933
Shankweiler's Auto Park: Orefield, Pennsylvania. April 15, 1934
Drive-In Short Reel Theater: Galveston, Texas. July 5, 1934
Pico: Los Angeles, California. September 9, 1934
Weymouth Drive-In Theatre: Weymouth, Massachusetts. May 6 1936
Starlight Auto Theatre: Akron, Ohio. Summer, 1937
Lynn Open Air Theater: Lynn, Massachusetts. July, 1937
Providence: Providence, Rhode Island. July 21, 1937
Miami Drive-In: Miami, Florida. February 25, 1938
Detroit Drive-In: Detroit, Michigan. June 2, 1938
Cleveland: Cleveland, Ohio. June, 1938
Shrewsbury Drive-In: Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. June, 1938
San-Val: Burbank, California. June 10, 1938
Merrimack Auto Theatre: Methuen, Massachusetts. Summer, 1938
Valley Stream: Long Island, New York. August 10, 1938
Corpus Christi: Corpus Christi, Texas. March, 1939
Saco Drive-In: Portland, Maine. July 15, 1939
Atlantic Drive-In: Jacksonville, Florida. December 6, 1939
Another source for information on drive-ins is this site at Drive-ins.com.
What are your memories of drive-in theaters? To start the ball rolling, I recall sitting in the back seat with my twin brother, both in our jammies, reaching over the front seat for popcorn and watching the movie between our parents’ heads. We saw “With Six You Get Egg Roll” (1968) with Doris Day and Brian Keith, and “The Boatniks” (1970). My brother, John, remembers there were two cartoons, “Tiger Trouble” (1945) with Goofy, and “Donald’s Ostrich” (1937) with Donald Duck. I don’t remember these, but then, he’s the cartoon guy. This must have been the summer of 1970. I faded out halfway through the second one, which I think might have been “The Boatniks”.
When I was a child growing up, I can remember that if we saw any of our friends in the neighborhood walking out to their cars after suppertime in their jammies and bathrobes and slippers, carrying pillows, we knew they were going to the drive-in.
I always thought one of the most haunting sights is an abandoned drive-in. The huge screen shredded by wind and the elements, the clumps of grass growing between cracks in the asphalt, the posts for the speakers standing sentinel, rusting. Like an Old West ghost town, eerie.
Do you still go to a drive-in near you?