As I think I’ve mentioned on occasion my wife and I are old movie fans and at any given moment are fairly likely to have Turner Classic Movies on, if only for background music. And if they’re showing any picture made from the early 50’s through the early 60’s it’s as likely as not that I’ll say “I saw that at the drive-in”.
Most of the drive-ins we went to were along St. Charles or Natural Bridge, a bit north of where we lived. Ronnie’s. Airway. Plaza. St. Ann. I don’t remember all of their names but they all had big, electrified, sometimes “moving” signs.
Going to a drive-in movie theater was a weekly experience for my family. For $1 mom and my dad and all of us kids could go to the movies together. We’d pull into one of the parking spaces, raked so that the front of the car was raised a little to see the screen better, hang the speaker in the side window, my sisters and I would pile into the back seat of the car with blankets and pillows, frequently in our PJ’s, and my mom and dad would neck in the front seat.
I have a vague recollection that some of the drive-ins offered car heaters so that they could stay open until later in the season. I have no memory of any that offered air conditioning, which would have been handy in a sultry St. Louis July.
We saw dramas (The High and the Mighty, Written on the Wind, The Rose Tattoo), musicals (Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), costume epics (The Robe, The Conqueror), westerns (The Alamo), and movies in virtually every genre imaginable with the exception of science fiction or horror. My folks didn’t care for them.
Some of the pictures we saw were pretty steamy (The Rose Tattoo, A Walk on the Wild Side) or otherwise adult (Anatomy of a Murder, Days of Wine and Roses) but it didn’t really matter much. Those pictures were actually pretty tame by today’s standards and my sisters, younger than I, were generally asleep by the time the feature came on.
But I remember all of them and they were an important part of my childhood experience. They’re an experience that the kids of today will never know, an odd combination of movie-watching, social event, and parking lot. Now the drive-ins are as far in the past as Turnvereins and beer gardens were when I was a kid.