Thursday, April 23, 2009
At The Drive-In
If you are one of the fortunate ones who grew up in the age of the outdoor drive-in theatre, can you remember the very first movie you watched at one of those places?
The very first movie I can ever remember watching wasn't at Albany Drive-In Theatre, where I grew up. It was in 1964, at a outdoor theatre in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the movie was, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." I don't remember the name of that drive-in, but it had a double screen, and for a 5-year-old boy, it seemed like that place was as big as Texas and there were a million cars there. I remember going to the concession with my aunt, and then trying to find our car on the way back.
"It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" featured an all-star cast; Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Jim Backus, Don Knotts, Larry Fine and Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis and many others. The movie was about a former jail inmate enroute to the place where he hid $350,000 before incarceration. His car goes over a cliff, and when people come to his rescue, the dying man gives them details of where the money is buried. A crazy chase develops and the movie is just hilarious to watch.
There was something special about growing up at the drive-in. The atmosphere there was like no other place. Sitting in the car, you could smell the hamburgers from inside the concession stand, and you knew....YOU KNEW that Barney Neal's popcorn was in there, too. People would sit on the hood of their car, or on a blanket on the ground, or in the back of their pick-up truck. Absolutely nothing beat watching a movie on that big screen under the stars. The Albany Drive-In Theatre is where I learned how to drive a car. Along the way, I learned a lot of other things there, too. It was the perfect place to grow up, and if I had a chance to go back and do it all again, I would still want to grow up at Albany Drive-In Theatre.
I was joking when I told John D. Sloan that Pam and I were considering tearing down the radio station and building an outdoor drive-in theater on the lot. I said, "But there is just one condition....YOU have to be the one who runs the projector!" He just smiled the biggest ever. John taught his son, Steve, how to operate the projector, and the two of them did it alternately for many years. And, that's the way it was as my whole family chipped in and helped at the drive-in at one time or another. As I wrote earlier, it was our way of life.
Here's what lifelong family friend David Cross had to say upon the passing of Wallace Allred:
"Wallace Allred was a low-key, fine gentleman. He was as good to the young people in Albany as anybody ever was. Living within walking distance of the Drive-In, I don't know how many times, as a young boy, I would walk to the theatre and sit out front of the concession stand where there were always people hanging out, and watching the movie--sort of. Wallace never charged us for walking in. I suppose he knew we'd buy concessions, including the famous Barney Neal popcorn. The Means family, John D. Sloan, and the whole Speck-Allred clan would be on hand in the concession stand. I miss Albany Drive-In to this day. And the older I get, the more I appreciate Cecil Speck and Wallace Allred."
If you would like to share a special memory of Albany Drive-In Theatre or Clinton Theatre, or Wallace Allred, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or click on 'Comments' below.
For more stories about Wallace Allred and Albany Drive-In Theatre, read "Life is a Circle" and "Wallace Allred Entertained Us".
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