80 Years Ago in Pop Culture: Drive In and Watch a Movie

Richard Hollingshead opened the first outdoor movie theater in Camden, New Jersey on June 6 eighty years ago. 1933 was the height of the Great Depression, when 25% of the U.S. population was unemployed.  A can of Campbell soup cost ten cents.  So did a gallon of gasoline.SnackBarAd

Movie tickets cost fifty-one cents.  Hollingshead charged a quarter a car plus a quarter per person, with no group paying more than a dollar.  So that those in the back had as good a view as those in front, he graded the lot at a five percent incline.

Hollingshead called his business Park-in Theaters.  He advertised as entertainment for the whole family, “regardless of how noisy the children are,” and no one had to leave their car unless they had a yen for popcorn and a Coke.  The concept caught on.

By 1946 there were three hundred drive-ins across the country.  By 1957 there were six thousand with a weekly audience of thirty-five million.  The growth paralleled the movement to suburbia, the increase in car ownership, and a shortage of baby sitters.

The smallest theaters accommodated fifty automobiles.  One of the largest, the All-Weather Drive-In Theater in Copiague, New York, had room for 2,500 cars.  It also offered an amusement park for frisky kids, a cafeteria serving hot dogs and pizza for randy teenagers, and an indoor, air-conditioned theater for anyone seeking relief on a hot summer night.  Needless to say, no one was ever bored, went hungry, or wilted from the humidity.

Decades later drive-ins have pretty much gone the way of landline telephones, done in by technology. First color televisions, followed by video players and DVDs, captured the audience’s attention.  Today theater owners find it too expensive to switch to digital equipment for a shrinking number of viewers who would rather stay home and pop Orville Redenbacher in the microwave than go out.

But, for anyone craving a trip down memory lane, some drive-ins are still around, many with multiple screens.  Coast to coast there’s the Randall Drive-in In Bethel, Maine and the Mayfield Road in Chardon, Ohio.  At the South Bay Theater near San Diego, Iron Man 3, Fast & Furious 6, and The Hangover Part 3 are playing.  Grown Ups 2 is coming soon!

For an Ozoner, that’s anyone who enjoys watching a movie under the stars, it’s going to be a great summer.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

And a Google doodle:


80 Years Ago: At the Movies

1933 was a stellar year for Hollywood.

Mae West on her way to the top.

Mae West on her way to the top.

Mae West and Cary Grant became superstars that year.

West and Grant first appeared together in She Done Him Wrong, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and then I’m No Angel.  Both movies were big moneymakers for Paramount Studios, saving it from bankruptcy.

By 1935 West was the second-highest paid person in the United States after William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst, by the way, a media tycoon, also tried his hand at making movies.  He founded Cosmopolitan Pictures, a production company, and created starring roles for his long-time girlfriend Marion Davies.

Grant became one of Hollywood’s most debonair leading men, performing with such leading ladies as Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Ingrid Bergman, Eva Marie Saint, Doris Day, Leslie Caron, Sophia Loren, and… Ginger Rogers, the latter in Once Upon a Honeymoon in 1942.  She plays a burlesque queen married to a Nazi in pre World War II Europe.  He’s a radio correspondent who saves her.

Rogers, herself a screen legend, is most famous as Fred Astaire’s romantic interest and dancing partner in Hollywood musicals, the first of which was Flying Down to Rio in 1933.   Did you ever see a dance routine on the wings of an airplane? It’s amazing. “She had guts,” Astaire wrote of her in his autobiography.

Katharine Hepburn had a career that spanned over sixty years.  In 1933 she earned her first of four Oscars for her third film Morning Glory, a story of a young stage actress who becomes a star when she replaces the prima donna who walks off the set.  42nd Street, another musical released that year, also paid tribute to Broadway.

Busby Berkeley was at the height of his popularity when he directed Gold Diggers of 1933. As a choreographer, his professional goals were to constantly top himself and to never repeat his past accomplishments.  He probably never did. Isn’t a kaleidoscope a never-repeating series of patterns?

The first King Kong movie starring Fay Wray was released.  It’s been remade twice, giving Jessica Lange and Naomi Watts their big breaks.  There’s something about being chased by a big ape through Times Square that makes an actress irresistible.

And then there are the good guys.  Joseph Yule Jr. signed with MGM as Mickey Rooney, although the first Andy Hardy flic didn’t open until 1937.  Popeye the Sailor made his first appearance on the big screen in a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, beginning his long and illustrious career chasing Olive Oyl, thwarting Bluto, catching bad guys, and encouraging children to eat more spinach.

It was the Great Depression, but no one was depressed at the movies.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Quite a trick: