I Led Three Lives…at the Drive-In!
by Bob Jandoli
Although the first Drive-In Movie Theater opened in 1933, (In Camden, N.J.), its peak of popularity wasn’t reached until the 1950’s, and they were booming during this time. There were as many drive-ins as indoor theaters in the U.S. By 1958 New Jersey, alone, had over forty drive-in theaters and each one was packed every weekend. What an experience for the entire family. It was cheap, it was fun, and it kept the family together. If a couple couldn’t find a baby sitter for the kids, off to the drive-in it was. There were playgrounds, rides, and all kinds of goodies to eat. People brought their beach chairs if they didn’t want to be cooped up in the cars on summer nights. Some people laid on the hoods of their cars with pillows and blankets and enjoyed it like their own living rooms. The entire area was one big happy place for everyone to enjoy.
My family was one of those fortunate enough that just about every weekend we experienced this great time that is long gone. The young people of today are being deprived of this wonderful adventure and they would so enjoy it! With all the technology they have today, especially the advanced graphics and special effects, the drive-in movie theater would amaze them.
I, myself, experienced three life phases of this outdoor bit of entertainment. In the early 1950’s, when I was a very small boy, my parents would load us in our 1951 Dodge, with our pj’s on (knowing we wouldn’t make it through the night without falling asleep) and off to The Livingston Drive-In in Livingston. NJ we would go. My siblings and I would run to the playground and have a ball until the movie began. My father would stop by the snack bar and pick up the sodas, popcorn, hot dogs, and other goodies that would keep us quiet in the back seat. We saw everything from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” to “Godzilla” to epics like “Ben-Hur” and “Around the World in Eighty Days”. A world of entertainment amid the relaxation of our family car.
Then came my teenage life at the drive-In. The perfect venue for a teenage double-date with friends. (The movie “GREASE” with John Travolta depicted the drive-in movie perfectly). Teenagers were all over the place, mingling in and out of their cars, girls gossiping and boys making plans for tomorrow’s football game. Then came the movie, remember that? That’s what we came for, I think. Sometimes the movies were interesting, but what was going on in the front and back seats of our cars was VERY interesting. Again, we had a ball, and it was a great place for that period of my life.
Finally came the time for my family. I was now the father and my family of two children needed to experience what I did. Thank God, the drive-ins, although they were in their decline in America, still existed. I remember one summer around 1975 or so, The Livingston Drive-In presented “A SUMMER OF DISNEY”. Each weekend they showed two Disney Classics: both animated and live-action movies on the big screen. It was a perfect time for me to introduce my kids to this wonderful past-time. We were there every weekend and the feeling I had in my first “drive-in life” as a young child was back again and I loved it.
Sadly, real estate values climbed, and the land that housed drive-ins in America became more valuable to the land owners to sell off to larger corporations for more profitable ventures. There were over 5000 outdoor movie theaters in the U.S. in 1958, by the 1980’s there were less than 300. Today there are even fewer. There has been some talk of a comeback, but I really don’t think the draw will be there. America has become too sophisticated (well, we certainly think we are) for this nostalgic past time. I hate to sound like my grandfather, but “Kids today don’t really know what they’re missing”. Now, they may never know. Because it wasn’t just the drive-in itself, but it was what happened there and the kinds of people of that time that made it the memory it remains to be. You just had to be there. I was, in three different lives!