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Hanging In, Hanging Out, and Hanging On at the Drive-In


Friday will mark a nostalgic anniversary. It was 75 years ago, on June 6, 1933, that the world's first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey. By 1950, there were 4,000 of these movies under the stars across the country. Only a couple hundred survive.

At the drive-in, instead of wedging into a theater next to talkative strangers, crying babies, and large people blocking your view, you watched a movie in the comfort of your car, side by side with hundreds of other cars in a sprawling parking lot. You could bring your cranky baby along without disrupting anyone. Teenagers adored the romantic privacy of a dark automobile, to the point that some media referred to drive-ins as passion pits.

The movies themselves mostly ranged from family fare to second-rate monster, space, and action thrillers. The sound that squawked out of the little speaker that you attached to your car window was tinny at best. But the drive-in's concession stand did offer a full and fattening menu of fried food, sodas and candy -- and of course, popcorn.

The spread of daylight saving time, under which the sun sets well past 9 p.m. in summertime, cut into drive-in attendance. The advent of color television and video rentals kept people home as well. When some drive-in owners sought to boost revenue by showing risqué movies, neighbors and parents and police drove them out of business. Other owners sold out to housing and shopping-center developers.

Many U.S. cities have tried to recapture the romance of outdoor movies by showing films in parks and pedestrian malls. But patrons sit on blankets, not in their '54 Chevys.

And no one's writing tunes like the Beach Boys' Drive-In song, which goes, in part . . .

Every time I have a date there's only one place to go.
That's to the drive in.
It's such a groovy place to talk and maybe watch a show.

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