Once upon a time, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters across the United States. What a concept. Parents didn’t have to hire a babysitter to go to the movies. There would be a movie for the whole family, and then as the kids fell asleep in the back seat, parents could watch a movie just for them. It was awesome. While it lasted.
There aren’t very many drive-in movie theaters anymore. I personally blame Daylight Savings Time on their demise. VCR rentals are also culprits, along with a jump in real estate prices, and color tv’s that became pretty much affordable for a lot of people. Bummer. There are less than 400 today scattered across the nation. Shame on us.
My mom used to take us to the Bellaire Drive-in in our hometown of Weirton, West Virginia numerous times each summer. What fun we had. Most of the time we were able to wear our pajamas. We would lay out a big blanket right beside the car and watch the movies from the ground. We would take one of the loudspeakers from their pole and place it beside us. Fun times. When we didn’t wear our pajamas, there was a playground waiting for us in front of the large projection screen. We would play until it was dark enough and the giant screen would come alive. We would then scamper to the car to await the first feature.
My mom would sit inside the car, alone. I think she considered this her down time. I never really paid attention to her during the movie until I had to go to the bathroom. I never thought it was weird to go the drive-in bathroom in my pajamas and slippers. I was a little kid. Kids got away with a lot of stuff. Adults could never walk to the concession stand in their pajamas. Although, I do happen to see a lot of people in their pajamas at Walmart, so I may have to retract that statement.
After the first short or first movie, there would be a song about intermission that we grew to love. They made the concession stand sound like a 5-star restaurant. Everyone had to hit the concession stand. The smell of buttered popcorn would travel from the little block building to every car parked there that night. Parents knew that it didn’t matter how much food they brought with them for the kids to snack on, buttered popcorn was going to win hands-down. And it always did.
“Vickie, you do not need to go to the concession stand………No you don’t……..No you don’t…………Vickie, they are not giving away puppies. Quit lying……..No they aren’t……………………..Ok, but hurry back…..I don’t want butter on mine.”
We would go at dusk and watch the cartoons that were shown before the main movie. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my mom fell asleep a lot. What other reason would a mother let her children sit through a rated-R movie. She simply didn’t know because she fell asleep during the first movie. We rarely stayed for the second movie when we were quite small. Unless she fell asleep. And oh my, when we were a bit older, we wanted her to fall asleep. We had a lot to learn.
My first rated R movie that I was able to watch courtesy of my sleeping mother was The Fearless Vampire Killers. I was about eleven years old, I believe, since the movie came out in 1967. Directed by Roman Polanski, and starring Sharon Tate. My mom told me that it wasn’t rated R and that none of the movies at the Bellaire Drive-In were rated R. I don’t know about that, Mom.
I had my eyes glued to the big screen for a while, and glanced into the car to see if my mom was awake. If there was cigarette smoke coming out of the crack in the car windows, she was awake and she would take us home if she saw any nudity or bad language. But, and this but was the fun part, if she was asleep, we got a lesson in sex, drinking, and kissing. And with such a big screen, you could really see things. Like French kissing. Oh my. Again, my mom let me know that the movie was not Rated -R. She didn’t want to come off as a bad, sleeping mother. I always thought she was lying. Especially with The Fearless Vampire Killers. There were a lot of naked women running around. Found out today that it was rated PG 13. Go figure. Um, sorry Mom.
Some of the other movies I remember watching at the drive in were:
1967- Valley of the Dolls
1966- Sand Pebbles
Planet of the Apes-1968
Sound of Music
1967-Bonnie and Clyde
Now that I look through the internet movie database, I realize that I spent a good part of my summers at the drive-in. The above were just a sampling of the movies I saw in my pajamas. I feel sorry for my two children. They missed out. I guess I could ask them this summer some time to put their pajamas on one starry lit night and drag them to the closest drive-in. At ages 26 and 24, I am sure it would be an experience they would never forget.
I just hope I don’t fall asleep.