There are at least a dozen different ways to sneak into a drive-in movie without paying. So I’ve been told. Not that I would know.
A partial drive-in theater – Theatre de Guadalupe – was opened in Las Cruces, New Mexico on April 23, 1915. Fifty years later, teenagers were sneaking into drive-ins to catch a glimpse of the X-Rated movies being shown as a last ditch effort by the theater’s owners to combat the gradual decline in sales seen throughout the nation’s drive-in cinema industry.
As a youngster, a night at the drive-in theater was a big deal. The entire family loaded into the car and parked close enough to one of the little metal poles so that the wired speaker could reach a half-opened car window, giving sound to the film projected onto a 40 X 50-foot concrete screen. Dinner and a movie meant gorging on hot dogs, French fries, and buttery popcorn while watching “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”.
During the 1970’s, there was this one little town, safely nestled in the Bible Belt, that somehow found itself with hoochie dancers at the county fair and Adult-only movies at the local drive-in on Monday through Wednesday. An inquisitive 18-year-old high school senior at that time could legally buy a pack of cigarettes and a carton of beer before heading-off to watch porn legends John Holmes and Seka practicing making babies.
Admission to a drive-in movie was always an affordable night-out on the town. That was one reason that drive-ins had become so popular during the 50’s and 60’s. It was an evening of affordable family fun. A great big social event where the chances were good that you just might run into your neighbor or second-cousin on the way to the concession stand for a box of Good & Plenty and a Coke.
Another obvious reason for the popularity of drive-in movies was the heavy-petting, make-out sessions causing all the steamed-up car windows seen in the parking lot. A teenaged couple in love and/or lust was otherwise restricted to a field, an orchard, or down by the riverside when desperately seeking a make-out spot. With a drive-in, a young couple had a legitimate-sounding planned date to present to the parents for approval and then a few hours later, their own private little world inside of a car, isolated from public view by the foggy windows.
So, with admission to a drive-in movie so inexpensive, why would anyone in their right mind go to the trouble of sneaking-in without paying? Well, if you were a teenager, it was probably because of a genetic trait that had been passed down from generation to generation, a right of passage into adulthood learned from an older sibling. For some teens, who may have been conceived during a double-feature eighteen years earlier, a unexplained power, a memorized migratory path may have called them home. Like a sea turtle laying eggs in the beach’s sand.
Creativity is the key when sneaking into a drive-in theater. The most obvious attempt is a body or two scrunched on the back floorboard of the car, covered with blankets and coats. The popularity of station wagons made this quite feasible. But with a four-door sedan, the odds of entry increased when utilizing a 2-1-2 formation. Two friends up front, with a third friend nonchalantly stretching his legs across the last two friends hidden under the blankets in the backseat.
Hiding friends in the trunk of the car was always popular. Effective, provided you had planted a prop in the trunk beforehand, like a blanket, that you ‘had to retrieve’ after parking. Plus, the prop of a blanket or cooler reminded the driver that he had left his two friends in the trunk. There were no safety-releases in the trunks of cars forty-years ago.
A pickup truck provided for the highest freeloader-per-vehicle ratio next the Econoline van. But the bulging hump of a tarp was a big red flag at the admission gate, only creativity would help in gaining free entry. A few shovels and rakes and perhaps a few cinder blocks stacked at the rear of the truck bed gave the impression of a hard working young man out on a date with his honey. Either that or a truckload of gardeners illegally crossing a nation’s border.
But the most daring, heart pounding, adrenaline-powered technique was “The Commando”. The one friend who had a pickup truck would drive as many friends as would fit into the back of the truck, not to the front gate of the drive-in, but further down the highway, to the long dirt road that led up a hill to the dark field behind the drive-in’s amphitheater. The commandos jumped out, dispersed into the small grove of trees, and then attempted to naturally blend-in as they covertly walked through row after row of paying cars, searching for their friend’s truck.
During the last few years of the Shenandoah Valley Drive-In’s existence, there was one group of moviegoers that ‘bucked the system’, stood out from the crowd. The normal Monday through Wednesday crowd were fans of adult films for their own various reasons. There were a few trench coat types who were thrilled to see their naughty magazines come to life on the big screen. A lot of the vehicles were occupied by a lone male, who sipped from a can beer or a flask of whiskey, the source of courage that had gotten him there in the first place. And of course, there were several cars with windows fogged by amorous couples, many of whom were married to someone. There was inspiration in the movie playing in front of them, but to those couples it wasn’t the main event.
And smack in the middle of those stereotypes were several vehicles driven there by a dozen or so local teens (both guys and girls), a yellow pickup truck parked backwards in the middle of their cars. There were lawnchairs and blankets in the bed of the truck and on the grass, with several coolers of beer within arms reach. There was no need for speakers to be hung on the car windows as the teens laughingly provided a colorful play-by-play commentary of the erotic action playing out on the big screen. And despite their raunchy rowdiness, no one told them to be quiet because no one wanted to be seen.
Anyway, that’s the way it was explained to me. The photos in today’s post are of an original program that I found in my massive mound of worthless memorabilia.
There are still several Drive-ins in Virginia
Here’s a great collection of Old Drive-In Movie Ads from the 50’s and 60’s