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Ringo Adamson ’78
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Michael Adler ’83
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Jeff Bender ’81
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Jack Collins ’64, ’67
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Marvin Creamer ’43
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Joe Conte ’74
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Renai Ellison ’89
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Kevin Feeney ’78, Gregg Feistman ’80 & Sandy Maxwell ’69, ’84
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Michael J. Fowlkes ’81
> Georgina Blake Fries '60
> Louise Hammel ’95
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Mike Iaconelli ’94
> Billy Lange ’94
> Termaine Lee ’03
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Mark Milan ’89 & Dave Gorham ’89
> Kenton ’85 & Kathy Iadicola Nice ’85
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Elaine Reed ’85
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Lindsey Roy ’04
> Mike Stengel ’78
> Dean Thomas ’72

The last picture show
by Elaine Reed ’85

aylight. Locked ticket booths, rusty speakers, peeling paint. Time to run closing credits for America’s drive-in theatres. Cue Elaine Reed ’85. As a requirement for her master of fine arts degree, Reed traveled across the United States to document in photographs the surviving drive-in movie theatres. “Surviving” is perhaps an unfortunate adjective for outdoor movies, because it implies a life that left long ago—double features, noisy families, salty popcorn, necking teenagers and ’59 Cadillacs. Reed’s photo exhibition and thesis are adapted here, from “Drive-ins: The Last Picture Show.”

In June of 1933, the world’s first drive-in theatre opened on a 400-car lot in Camden, New Jersey. R.M. Hollingshead erected a screen on the roof of his machine-parts shop, graded his lot into ramped semicircles, set up a 16mm projector and placed speakers beside the screen. He must have acted in the throes of a powerful vision—one that illuminated America’s growing obsession with the automobile and the mesmerizing view beyond the windshield.

Drive-ins did not take off until after World War II, during those prosperous, automobile-obsessed years. There were 15 million more cars on the road by 1952 than there had been in 1946, and drive-ins increased proportionately. At the end of 1946, there were only 300 drive-ins: 12 years later, there were more than 4,700. During the same period, the number of hardtop cars declined from 18,719 to 11,300.

The rise of television and the middle class’s flight from the inner city helped drive-ins ride the crest of the suburban wave. An ex-GI and his wife seeking a cheap evening of family entertainment could pack the kids into the station wagon and head out to the new drive-in theatre.

Today drive-in theatres have almost disappeared from our landscape— about 593 remain. Some have become multiplexes with up to six screens. I’ve found that drive-ins cross many lines in American life. It’s easy to be cynical or melancholy about losing these cultural artifacts, but regardless of age or socioeconomic background, everyone has a funny story to tell about drive-ins. Those fond memories help keep the drive-in alive in some way.


from spring ’97

 
> in memory