Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In the privacy of your automobile

By Star Lawrence

There are still drive-in theatres, but mostly one sees their spindly skeletons beside the smaller highways, their tinny voiceboxes stilled.

People watch movies in the privacy of their own homes now or if they are feeling flush, in the theatre. Dinner and a movie, plus babysitter, can run more than $100.

In the Wayback, the drive-in was the babysitter. Mom and Dad used to change us four kids into jammies and pile us into the backseat. Dad had to wrestle the curly-wired microphone into the partially opened car window, accompanied by some muffled adult verbiage. Everyone in the backseat squirmed and squabbled in anticipation.

First, came the dancing hotdog or a singing box of popcorn. This, of course, would set off a chorus of begging from our section. Sometimes our parents would relent and one of them would stand in line in a little hut smelling of rancid popcorn topping, usually city blocks from the car and superheated from the long, hot, humid summer day in St. Louis.

My brother George did a pretty fair imitation of the singing hotdog. He is a physician now, but that singing hotdog was pretty much the high point.

Sticky and laughed out, we lasted about another half an hour while our parents watched the movie. The minute the car started to move, though, our heads popped up—if we didn’t see credits, we would wail, “It’s not over,” foiling Dad’s attempt to beat the rush.

In 1928, an auto parts salesman named Richard M. Hollingshead tried to sell more auto parts by hanging up a sheet and showing movies. He put the projector on the hood of his car and used a radio for sound. Eventually, he patented his outdoor dinner/movie idea and the first drive-in theatre opened in 1933 in Camden, NJ. Following World War II, the idea really took off.

With the coming of daylight savings time, though, it was not dark enough for the movie to start until 10 PM. People didn’t want to drag the kids out that late. Then came VCRs and cable.

The drive-ins dwindled, but never did die, some of them showing adult or slasher films to appeal to those who valued the privacy of the cars for more high school-appropriate reasons. Some are being revived, with multiple screens and other attractions, such as miniature golf.

On a trip back to St. Louis, my brother (the other one, not the singing hotdog) and I took my daughter, then about 10, to a drive-in. She thought...

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