When We Watched Movies In The Car

Michael Vick court sketch
The Vineland Drive In is the last outdoor movie theater in the movie capital, Los Angeles.

The drive-in is a relic from a different time, a bit of Americana you may have thought ran out of gas years ago, CBS News Sunday Morning Anchor Charles Osgood reports.

Drive-ins were the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, who built the first one in Camden, N.J., in 1933, as a way to attract customers to his gas station. Slowly, word got out about this new entertainment.

Sumner Redstone remembers selling sodas and popcorn at his father's drive-in.

"My father built what was the third drive-in theater in the United States, which was the Sunrise Auto Theatre," Redstone recalls.

So he really got in on the ground floor?

"I was in on the very ground floor, yes," he replies.

Redstone's office isn't on the ground floor anymore. That drive-in movie company grew into the media giant Viacom, parent of Paramount Pictures, MTV, and CBS.

"It started out with a handful of drive-ins which, as you know, represented really an important nostalgic era in the motion picture business," Redstone explains.

By World War II, there were about 100 drive-ins in the United States. After the war, they sprang up everywhere. Families flocked to them.

Susan Sanders and her husband, Don, have chronicled the history of drive-ins in two books ("The American Drive-In Movie Theatre" and "Drive in Memories: Popcorn and Romance Under The Stars"), as well as a new documentary.

Buy "Drive in Memories"
"The decade of the '50s was the explosive decade for drive-in growth," says Susan Sanders. "Americans love the movies, and we love our cars. It was the perfect marriage."

Before long, there were 5,000 drive-ins in the United States. And it hardly mattered what was showing.

As Don Sanders explains, "Drive-ins never did get first-run product. Drive-ins played movies that had been out for two to three months. That's the phenomenon of the drive-in. The drive-in owner could almost play anything and get a crowd."

And the crowds were getting younger, watching teen-age fare like "Beach Blanket Bingo."

"Certainly, by the early '60s, the drive-in was the hangout for teen-agers," says Susan Sanders. "The movie was always secondary really to why you went to the drive-in. If you missed 10 minutes because you were making out in the bck seat, it didn't really matter, because the plot wasn't very complicated."

Sam Sherman's Independent International Pictures made movies specifically for drive-ins, carrying such titles as "Dracula Versus Frankenstein," "Blazing Stewardesses," "The Dynamite Brothers," "Nurse Sherry," and "Satan's Sadists."

"I tried to employ some taste, you know," says Sherman. "I can't say always the best, but some taste."

In the business, there is an expression for some of these movies: three Bs.

"Breasts, beasts and blood," Sherman says. "We had them. If you had Bs, we had them."

Don Sanders explains, "It just got a little more racy. And eventually the movies just got to where they were just flat-out X-rated movies."

But by then, the drive-in's clock had run out. Daylight Savings Time was one reason, forcing movies to start later on summer evenings. Urban sprawl was a second, as the land became more valuable for malls and housing developments. Air-conditioned multiplexes and television also helped drive out the drive-ins.

"I think that the drive-ins' low ebb has passed," says Don Sanders. "And I think a whole generation of people that had missed drive-ins back in the '80s or the late '70s are now being re-introduced to them, and kids are going back to the drive-ins."

Today, there are Web sites promoting drive-ins. And there are fan clubs. Also, 500 drive-in theaters dot the United States. A few are being torn down. But about 40 others, either new or restored, have opened in the past four years.

It's not quite a revival, but there's renewed interest in drive-ins, triggered by memories of summer nights.

As Susan Sanders points out, "This is a wonderful American icon, and we have to celebrate it, and we need to stop it being torn down."

For more about drive-in movies across the U.S., and to see if one is located near you, try these Web sites: www.americandrivein.com, www.drive-ins.com, www.driveintheater.com or www.driveinmovie.com.

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