IT WAS, LITERALLY and historically, a “Kodak moment.”
In 1933, film fan Richard Hollingshead Jr. mounted his five-year-old Kodak projector atop his car, pinned a screen up to some trees near a radio, and, there in his New Jersey driveway, began to develop from these primordial views the nascent drive-in theater.
One day that May, he officially patented his invention. And the next month, on June 6, Hollingshead — sales manager at his father’s auto-parts company — took the first step toward selling America on an entirely new creation, of which their roomy, wide-windowed cars would play a crucial part.
Billing his invention as entertainment for the entire family, and backed by an investment of $30,000, Hollingshead debuted the Park-In Theaters in Camden 79 years ago today — launching America’s eventual mid-century passionate fascination with the drive-in theater.
Today, Google offers admission to an artful tribute to Hollingshead’s big screen debut. Illuminating its search homepage is an utterly inviting animation that ripples with vintage touches, from spacious autos evocative of the era to the suspenseful noirish feature, to the popcorn-wafting concession stand. As crickets chirp, a couple grows close and young scamps hide in the pickup bed. (Mike Dutton’s detailed art also includes at least three Easter eggs: an Android figure on the dash of the car, and an admission ticket number — 600613 — that in block numbers spells out “Google,” as do the dancing snacks during intermission.)
(Update: Dutton points out a fourth Easter egg to Comic Riffs: The spelled-out ”Google” that appears at the snack stand.)
So as Google marks the anniversary in lights, here are Eight Things You May Not Know About the Drive-In Theater:
1. ACCORDING TO lore, Hollingshead wanted to create a space where parents could casually bring their brood, freed from needing a babysitter or more formal attire. His pitch slogan was: “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.” (His maximum admission, no matter how many heads were in the car, was a dollar.)
2. THE FIRST FILM ever screened at Hollingshead's drive-in was “Wives Beware” (alternate title: “Two White Arms”), a 1932 one-hour comedy starring dapper Adolphe Menjou as a married womanizer suffering from convenient amnesia. The film co-starred the acclaimed Jane Baxter, a Winston Churchill favorite who graced stage and screen for a half-century.
3. HOLLINGSHEAD'S THEATER reportedly lasted only several years, but his idea caught on, peaking at mid-century with nearly 5,000 drive-ins, according to Drive-Ins.com.
4. PERHAPS THE largest park-in was the All-Weather Drive-In in Copiague, N.Y. It held a full restaurant, play equipment and more than 2,000 parking spots on 28 acres.
5. HOLLINGSHEAD USED RCA Victor speakers, and sound quality at drive-ins was notoriously awful for years — until soundtracks could be tuned through your car radio.
6. THE DECLINE in drive-ins was partly due to rising real-estate prices. Revenue remained hindered, of course, since films (most of which were B-movies or delayed-run features) couldn't be screened until twilight.
7. THERE ARE fewer than 400 surviving drive-ins in operation, according to Drive-Ins.com. Many of those are now multi-use facilities.
8. DRIVE-INS HAVE MADE for great cinematic settings, naturally, being featured in such films as “Grease” and “Twister.” And — especially fitting in light of today’s Doodle — in the trilogy that goes “Back to the Future.”
Thanks, Google, for the trip back in time.
Comic Riffs’ TOP TEN ‘GOOGLE DOODLE’ ANIMATES EVER (*before today):
1. PAC-MAN: VIDEO GAME DOODLE
2. GOOGLE BALLS: THE MYSTERY DOODLE
3. JOHN LENNON: IMAGINE THIS DOODLE
4. MARTHA GRAHAM: THE DANCING DOOGLE
5. FREDDIE MERCURY: THE MUSIC VIDEO
6. JIM HENSON: THE CLICKABLE MUPPETS
7. ART CLOKEY: THE “GUMBY DOODLE”
8. JULES VERNE: THE DEEP SEA DOODLE
9.STANISLAW LEM: THE ANIMATED SCI-FI GAME
10. VALENTINE’S DAY: THE “COLD, COLD HEART” DOODLE