When I was a kid, we lived in a Marine Corps housing development outside of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. On Friday nights, my father would take my sisters and me onto the base to the indoor movie theater there. The place seemed huge to me. We sat in the balcony. I saw Invaders from Mars (1953) there, and Retreat Hell (1952), and many another classic. Meanwhile, my best friend and his brother and mom and dad would pile into their family station wagon with popcorn and drinks, both boys in their pajamas, and head for the base drive-in. I loved the indoor theater but I was curious about that drive-in. We never went to it.
Later in Phoenix, when I was in the eighth grade and then high school, I lived half a mile down Indian School Road from the Big Sky Drive-In. The Big Sky had several rows of benches in front of the snack bar and you could walk in for a dollar. Double features twice a week, changing on Sunday and Wednesday. In the summer, the evening temperatures were in the low 80s and you could sit out in comfort with a snack under the stars. I remember especially the Steve Reeves movies there, Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959), which represented exotic Italian perfection to me as a teenager, in spite of the dubbing and low-budget screen values. Reeves – Mr. Universe – what a guy, and steroid-free. For some reason, I also remember the Robert Mitchum/Shirley McClaine feature “Two for the Seesaw” (1962), which seemed practically arthouse and totally romantic.
So how come I never walked over there with a date, although there were plenty of girls in the neighborhood that I could have asked to go? Why didn’t I ever do that, especially to a movie like Two for the Seesaw? Miniature golf, indoor movies, the public pool, yes, I went on dates to all of those, but how come I only walked down to the Big Sky, sometimes stopping at the Dairy Queen on the way, alone or with my sisters? I need to think about that; maybe ask my therapist what he thinks.
I worked at another drive-in, a mile or so farther away in the opposite direction, over near 59th and Bethany Home. It was newer and had no drive-in uniform-hats that fit me. They were all too small. The manager, an adult who was probably younger than he seemed to me at the time, insisted that I wear one of those tiny hats and I’d squeeze it onto my head whenever I saw him coming – which was often, because he persisted in hitting on the female teens working at the drive-in. He’d glare at me and my hat, signaling that I should get lost while he was operating on Clara in the ticket booth. In return, I never checked the car trunks, even when it seemed obvious that there were multiple kids hiding in them. The whole time I worked there, the same movie played, something about a big dog, an Irish Setter I think. It probably died at the end of the movie but I never actually watched frame one, so I couldn’t say. A station wagon would roll up to the ticket window with a dad and mom, packed with kids, and I’d have to tell them that Disney had jacked up the prices for the show, with me needing to charge for every kid in the carinstead of the usual flat rate, and the faces of the parents would fall. I let quite a few cars through without paying for the kids because Disney and its evil representative, the drive-in manager, pissed me off. Can’t remember why I quit but I do remember that I wasn’t fired.
There was one date that I took to the drive-in (can’t remember which theater but it wasn’t the Big Sky). Dr. No (1962) was playing – the first Bond movie. Who knew the future of the franchise, but I had been reading the Fleming books because JFK said that they were his favorites. I liked the movie better than the date. I was there with Charlotte after she had changed her name to Amy. We were both home for the summer from college. Now that I think of it, I saw The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) on a date, too, and again, liked the movie more than the date. Maybe that’s why I went to The Big Sky alone. Dates and movies can both be good, but why mix them?
In later years, the Big Sky suffered the same fate as a lot of other drive-ins: softcore porn, then a weekend flea market, then torn down, memory erased by new construction. Not so different, mutatis mutandis, from the fate of many of its patrons.