Thursday, June 30, 2011

When the attack of the 50 foot woman…..really WAS a 50 foot woman.

The drive-in theater was the creation of chemical company magnate Richard Hollingshead, Jr. In 1932, Hollingshead conducted outdoor theater tests in his driveway. 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.

Following these experiments, Hollingshead's first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933. It had 400 slots and a 40 by 50 ft screen. The original Hollingshead drive-in had speakers installed on the tower itself which caused a sound delay affecting patrons at the rear of the drive-in's field. Attempts at outdoor speakers next to the vehicle did not produce satisfactory results until in 1941, RCA introduced in-car speakers with individual volume controls which provided satisfactory sound to drive-in patrons. They were hung on the window of the car. But, these caused damage to the window if someone forgot to remove them before driving off. Also, they had a problem with sound quality and did not provide stereo sound. Later still, as in-car stereos became standard equipment, broadcast of the audio track on particular radio frequencies permitted the most efficient means of delivery.

The drive-in's peak popularity came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in rural areas, with some 4,000 drive-ins spreading across the United States. A family with a baby could take care of their child while watching a movie, while teenagers with access to cars found drive-ins ideal for dates. In the 1950s, the greater privacy afforded to patrons gave drive-ins a reputation as immoral, and they were labeled "passion pits" in the media.

Many drive-ins got pretty elaborate. Some drive-ins provided small propane heaters, attempting to entice their patrons to come in colder months. During their height, some drive-ins had small petting zoos, actors to open their movies, or musical groups to play before the show, or charged a flat price of one dollar per car on slow nights like Wednesday.

The typical snack bar offered food like hot dogs, pizza, burgers, popcorn, soft drinks and coffee and ice cream. To get people to the concession stands, trailer advertisements called “snipes” were shown before the feature and during any intermissions.

Some drive-ins added childrens' playgrounds between the screen and the first row of cars. (I remember the swing sets. HAHA!) Others even went as far as adding merry-go-rounds and miniature golf courses. Some even had concrete patios for people who wanted to go to a drive-in, but didn’t want to sit in their cars. Some even had indoor seating for the concession stand.

There are still drive-ins around today if you’d care to recapture some of those glory days of your youth. This 4th of July weekend might be a perfect time to do just that.

There’s a few websites out there if you just do a search for drive in theaters. Some even offer the feature that you can just type in where you live and it will pull up whatever is in that particular site’s database.

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  1. There is still at least three drive-in's in Kentucky. I go at least two or three times a season depending on the movie and the heat. I grew up with them as a child so I love that there are some still around.

  2. OMG, I haven't been to a drive-in since I was a kiddie, but I remember how fun it was to go. We went all the time. Our old drive-in used to feature 2 or 3 movies (so long ago). It was a rule for my baby sis and me to go in our pj's since we would fall asleep early on.
    I've passed this lovely award along to you. Check it out here:

  3. I grew up going to the drive-in - such fun. I do believe ther eis one near me, and I really want to take my kids. What a fun post! I am a new follower.
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