Drive-in Movie Intermission Show
The boom of drive-in movies was short lived, but left many of us with fond memories of that place to see the stars, under the stars.
The drive-in movie—for millions of children who grew up in the latter part of the 20th century—it seemed like one of those hallowed American traditions that would never go out of fashion. So ingrained in all of us was the drive-in ritual that we felt nothing could ever dislodge it. And make no mistake—it was a ritual.
First, there was all of the fuss and excitement around packing up the family auto with pillows and blankets; maybe a gallon thermos filled with Kool-Aid on ice; perhaps some candy and homemade popcorn popped up hot and greasy in a paper grocery bag. You piled into the car—sometimes on a particularly warm summer night you even got to wear your pajamas and slippers—and once your dad had paid the fee at the little ticket booth and maneuvered into one of the rows of white-painted speaker posts, there was always the struggle to test the clumsy, cast-metal speaker, to make sure that it worked well enough.
Then there was the finesse it took to thread the heavy speaker through the window and carefully suspend it, so that, under your mother’s protest, you could crank up the tinny-sounding audio right next to your ear, as loud as it would go.
As the twilight dimmed to darkness, Americans of that era settled back for the double feature, the giant screen with the movies projected onto it finally coming into crystal-clear focus. It was pure magic—even when occasionally the movie reel spooled out and the projectionist took a minute to reset another one, summoning a cacophony of car horns blaring in protest.
The history of the drive-in movie phenomenon is well-documented in countless books and articles on the topic. Its origins actually stretch back further than you might imagine, into the early 1930s, when a New Jersey chemical company magnate named Dick Hollingshead nailed a bed sheet to some trees in his backyard and balanced an ancient Kodak projector on the hood of his car to show movies. For sound, he set up a radio behind the screen. Hollingshead later opened a public drive-in theater, where (charging a 25-cent admission fee) he sparked an iconic trend that lasted for many decades.
Not surprisingly, Texas, with its vast wide-open spaces, figured early and prominently in the drive-in movie craze. Galveston’s “Drive-in Short Reel Theater” first opened its gates to the public in 1934, but was destroyed by a tropical storm less than month later and never reopened. Sadly, in the 1970s and onward, the spread of more movie channels coupled with the advent of high quality projection and audio for indoor movie theaters helped sound the death knell for most American outdoor movies. But there is a handful that persists, some of them even newly built to carry on the tradition. Here in Texas, the Galaxy Drive-in in Ennis opened in 2004 as a multiplex, with three separate screens (it now boasts six). In Houston, the Showboat Drive-in, which opened in 2006, still welcomes families to relax under the stars with their favorite movie, inviting them to indulge in a glorious moment of American popular history.
Did You Know?
The very first movie ever shown in a drive-in theater was the second run of a popular 1932 mystery called “Wives Beware,” starring Adolphe Menjou and Margaret Bannerman.
Richard Hollingshead, who’s credited with inventing the drive-in theater, aired the film in 1933, at his newly opened Automobile Theater, in Camden, NJ.
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