Monday, August 6, 2012

Movies Under the Stars

image used by permission of Don Sanders Marketing

On a summer evening, families filled the local drive-in. The parents sat in cars watching their children play on the swings and slides of the playground. Moms and Dads shared the contents of a brown paper bag filled with salty greasy popcorn made at home to save money. Everyone waited for sunset. It had to be dark to see a movie projected on the outdoor screen. 

After the cartoon, Mom told us to go to sleep on the bed of blankets in the back of the station wagon. I wanted to stay awake to see the elephants. They were not in a zoo or circus, but in the movie, Elephant Walk. The marquee listed the stars as Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Finch and Dana Andrews, but a five-year old knew the real stars were the four-legged ones with the long trunks. I did not understand the story and between boredom and being sleepy, I yawned a lot. Then an elephant appeared and I stared in awe.  Elephants are giants in real life, but imagine their size when projected onto a 50-foot wide screen.

The Ceres Drive-in charged admission by the carload. It was affordable entertainment and my parents had probably taken us there before, but this was the first time I remember. 

When my beloved Grandma Lucy wanted to see the Disney movie, Herbie the Love Bug, we went to a local drive-in. We arrived and realized that we did not have enough money to pay the admission for each of us. Grandma climbed into the back of the pickup and covered up with a sleeping bag to sneak in. It is a favorite memory of my usually honest granny sneaking in to watch a Disney movie! 

One night my friends and I dressed as if for a formal dance and met at the McHenry Drive-in. Instead of sitting in multiple cars, we arranged lawn chairs in a parking space so we could all sit together to enjoy the film. I do not remember what was playing on the screen, but being with my friends and the fun we shared is unforgettable.

The drive-in is an American invention by Richard Hollingshead. The first location opened Jun 6, 1933. Today few outdoor theaters continue to operate. Now, people watch movies in buildings with multiple indoor theaters, at home on television, at work downloaded on computers and on the go via cell phones. 

Movies are still fun summer entertainment, but not as spectacular as when shown after dark, under a star-filled sky, and projected on an enormous silver screen.


  1. Due to high prices of gas and Netflix, I don't think drive-ins will be popular anymore. There may be other venues though, like Bike-ins and parks where people can watch movies in the outdoors during summer.

    Good story! Love the part about the Grandmother sneaking in to see a Disney movie.

    1. Drive ins were a popular destination for more than car loads of families. I remember going there on dates. Can't remember the movies, just the guys.

  2. I wish Drive-Ins made a comeback. My family often went on weekends. I was always excited, regardless of what movie was playing. The experience was so much fun. I think there's still one in the Bay Area.

    A fun, nostalgic post, Teri. Thank you.