For 30 plus years, Wallace Allred entertained us. Albany Drive-In Theatre was owned by Wallace, my uncle, and Cecil Speck, my grandfather. I literally grew up there. Just like the radio station, the drive-in was a way of life for my family. For years, I guess I probably watched every single movie that played at the drive-in, many of them more than one once. Before I was old enough to drive, one of my aunts would park their car next to the concession stand and the younger generation of our family, me included, would sit in it and watch a movie. We did that a lot. Later, as I grew older, I would occasionally help out at the drive-in. I would accompany Wallaces' daughter, Pam, to Byrdstown, Livingston and Burkesville to pass out flyers of upcoming movies. Sometimes I would fill in for Wallace if he had to go see about one of his tractor-trailers. One summer, I popped the popcorn when Barney had to be out for surgery. It was also during that summer, that my brother, Mike, and I swept the field of all its trash 'and otherwise,' from the night before. For a while, we even cut the grass. I didn't mind helping out, but my favorite thing to do at the drive-in was to just sit in the car, with the speaker hanging on the door, and watch a movie. What a life!
Wallace Allred was not only an icon, but he was also an innovator, as well. He was not the first to bring entertainment to the Clinton or Overton counties, but when he did bring it, he stayed the course and held it all in place for 30 plus years....quite an accomplishment! While others came and went, Wallace stayed. In the early 1950's, Wallace, his dad Leland, and his partner, E. Kuell Stephens of Livingston, owned the Skyline Drive-In Theatre outside Livingston. In 1953, Wallace Allred and Speck bought Clinton Theatre, and then later, Albany Drive-In Theatre. In 1956, Leland Allred purchased the very popular Ritz Theatre on the square in Livingston. Built in 1938, the Ritz brought great entertainment to Overton County and beyond. Entertainers like Howard Masters, the best guitar player in Overton County at the time, and Ira Louvin, one half of the future Grand Ole Opry legend, the Louvin Brothers, would climb up on the roof of the Ritz and entertain a multitude of people on the sidewalk and street below, while inside, the theatre would be packed with people enjoying the latest movie. It seemed like every kid in Overton County showed up for the Saturday Matinee. The same thing was true in Albany. Wallace hired performers to entertain on top of the drive-in's concession stand, while the town square was always full of people from early to late every Saturday, and the main attraction was the Clinton Theatre.
The Clinton Theatre eventually closed and by the time the Ritz was destroyed by fire in 1962, Wallace and his partners were down to owning just the two outdoor drive-ins. Allred owned a 1940's model Harley-Davidson and it is a fact that, on many occasions, he would show the same movie on the same night at both drive-ins using just one set of reels - usually four per movie. He would start the show at Albany about a half-hour earlier than Livingston. As soon as one reel would be complete, he would hop on his motorcycle and take a new reel to Livingston. The distance between Albany and Livingston back in the days of the old Highway 111 with all the curves was about 35 minutes. It is legendary that Wallace made his motorcycle run to Livingston a lot sooner than 35 minutes.
A big trick for teenagers back then was to see if they could get by with sneaking into the drive-in. Former WANY disc jockey Art Pryor said, "Surely he knew us boys were sneaking in the drive-in!" Former WANY disc jockey Robin Halcomb said, "Wallace Allred was a gentleman!" Yes, and he was also a gentle man. My guess is that most of the time he did know when people were sneaking in.
The food at the drive-in was so much better than any place else. Maybe it had something to do with the atmosphere there, which was an experience unlike any other. There was just something about it that made it extra special for me. I can still smell Barney's popcorn and taste those delicious orange drinks! When Walking Tall part one came to town, the vehicles were lined up in both directions every night for several nights in a row. It was the biggest movie ever shown there. One of the funniest moments at the drive-in occured late one night when one of the Friday the 13th movies was showing. Just as a very intense moment in the film began to build, a cat found its way onto the lot. Right when the scene in the movie was reaching its climax, suddenly the cat jumped through the window and into the car. Instantly, the car doors were flung open and a boy and a girl emerged from the trans-am screaming for dear life.
In 1983, Albany Drive-In Theatre was sold to make room for a miniature shopping center. Even today, when I pass by Westview Shopping Center, I can't help but look in that direction and imagine the Albany Drive-In Theatre sitting there. One day, several years after the shopping center had been built, as I drove past the shopping center, I saw Wallace walking through the parking lot, and suddenly I was back in my youth again, and Wallace was walking from the ticket booth to the concession stand. I had seen him do that so many times before. It was a special moment for me and I was thankful for the gentle reminder of a great memory from my childhood. I decided right then that I was fortunate to have grown up at Albany Drive-In Theatre.
Monday morning was a sad day for all of us, friends and family alike. As the last reel was played and the movie had ended, the credits scrolling on the screen read...'the part of Wallace Allred was played by a gentle man, who entertained us.' You knew him best as 'the guy who sat inside the ticket booth and sold tickets at Albany Drive-In Theatre.'
Here's a free ticket to Albany Drive-In Theatre. Click here.
When WANY celebrated its 50th anniversary last October, the biggest highlight was when Wallace Allred showed up to help us celebrate. He mixed and mingled with friends for a couple of hours and ended up being on the air with us. As the photo shows, he ha while before making his way back to the studio, where he joined us on the air for a nice walk down memory lane.
You may leave your thoughts and comments on Wallace Allred and/or the Albany Drive-In Theatre or Clinton Theatre by clicking on 'comments' below, or by sending me an e-mail.