News / USA

America's Drive-In Movie Theater Turns 78

Only a few hundred 'movies under the stars' survive

The Moonlite Theatre in Woodbury, Tennessee, is still very much in business.
The Moonlite Theatre in Woodbury, Tennessee, is still very much in business.

Multimedia

Audio
Ted Landphair

This coming Monday marks a nostalgic anniversary in American culture. On June 6, 1933, 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. Almost 80 years later, only a couple hundred survive.

At the drive-in - or what some of us called “the drive-in picture show” to distinguish it from drive-in restaurants - instead of wedging yourself into a theater seat next to talkative strangers, crying babies and large people blocking your view, you watched a movie on a huge screen from the comfort of your car, side by side with dozens of other autos in a sprawling parking lot.

This drive-in theater is in Australia, but the photo gives you a good idea of how the speakers are lined up and waiting for cars and their occupants to arrive for the show.
This drive-in theater is in Australia, but the photo gives you a good idea of how the speakers are lined up and waiting for cars and their occupants to arrive for the show.

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, science-fiction, 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 concession stand at the “Starlite” or “Hi-Way” or “Sunset” Drive-In did offer a full and fattening menu of fried food, popcorn and sodas. A lot of people smuggled in stronger drinks as well, and it wasn’t unheard of to sneak in a person or two in the trunk, to avoid paying for more tickets.

Sometimes, along with a string of movie previews or cartoons before the main feature at the drive-in, you’d see an elaborate presentation about the many food options at the theater’s concession stand.
Sometimes, along with a string of movie previews or cartoons before the main feature at the drive-in, you’d see an elaborate presentation about the many food options at the theater’s concession stand.

The spread of daylight saving time cut into drive-in attendance, since dusk came late on balmy summer nights and the movie couldn’t start until 9 p.m. or later. 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, 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 nostalgic feeling 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

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs