Friday, Aug. 8, The Early Show concludes its "Best of America" series with a blast from the past. Drive-in movies are staging a comeback, especially in small-town America. The Early Show's Hattie Kauffman reports.
Fifty years have passed since the 1950s, when classic cars ruled the road and the drive-in was king.
Don Sanders says, "I think if you haven't been to a drive-in, there's a void in your life, and I think you've missed something that can't be duplicated any other place."
Along with Susan Sanders, he has written two books and produced a documentary on drive-in movies.
Susan says, "People our age who grew up going to the drive-in - we don't want that experience to die so that future generations can't have it. It's just not the same as going to the mall."
It often didn't matter what show was playing.
Don says, "I don't think anybody's ever gone to a drive-in to see the movie!"
Susan adds, "I never got to see a whole movie because I was so busy watching his hands."
Yes, drive-ins were often "passion pits." But they were also a place to bring the family.
Susan says, "It was so popular for so long and then all of a sudden, everyone had television."
Families began staying home. Studios gave their biggest films to indoor theaters and drive-ins, to stay afloat, began showing such not-so-classic films as: "Love Tramps" and "Dracula Vs. Frankenstein: Yesterday They Were Cold And Dead. Today, They're Hot And Bothered."
Susan says, "That's not the product they wanted to show, but, unfortunately, the families, which had been the backbone of the drive-in in the beginning, the families were no longer coming."
Don notes, "People thought that the drive-ins would just completely all go away."
They almost did. At its peak in the late 1950s, the U.S. had well over 4,000 drive-in theaters. Just 400 remain today. And Texas has suffered the sharpest decline - from 400 theaters to now only 15.
Don says, "If we have 15 drive-ins in Texas, that's fine. That's 15 more than people thought we would have."
Now theaters like the Brazos in Granbury, Texas, have been restored and cars are lining up well before show time.
The Brazos Drive-in owner Jennifer Miller says, "They come from all over. We've had them come from as far as Houston, which is about four, five hours from here."
At the marquee: "Finding Nemo." At the drive-ins, first-run family-oriented films are back. So, too, are families.
And so is the romance from one generation to the next. These small-town drive-ins are not fancy at all. They're a throwback to an earlier, simpler time.
Don says, "I think that drive-ins are mainly popular because people like nostalgia. We, generally, want to think that the '50s were a better time for most people."
Susan says, "I just think that's important to a lot of people. They want it to be nostalgic."
Miller says, "They grew up in the '50s, so they're coming back to experience what they did as children."
Rodney Welch, a parent, says, "The kids really enjoy it. They get to go out and run around and see the movie on the great big giant screen."
The Brazos Drive-in worker Brenda Stewart says, "I feel like we're sort of a guardian. You know, we're a caretaker for a piece of history. This brings some memories of their youth that were happy, that they want to share with their children."
Another parent says, "It's Americana. It's your best girl, a soda pop, a cool hot rod, a night with the kids."
Susan says, "There's just something magical about watching a movie outside under the stars."
Don adds, "Drive-ins, I don't believe they're ever going to go away."
While drive-in theatres were once found all over. Most are now in rural areas, well outside of major cities, and only a handful of new drive-ins are being built.
People are buying up abandoned drive-ins, those slated for the wrecking ball to become yet another shopping center, and restoring them to that classic feel. The only major difference is the sound. Instead of those big (and not very good) speakers, you can tune in the movie now on your car stereo system.
To find a theater near you visit, drive-ins.com
To learn more about the history of drive-in movies, log on to americandrivein.com
And for more about the Brazos Drive-in, go to thebrazos.com
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.