Welcome again to a ROADTRIP-'62 ™ discussion of things from 1962! My name is Don Milne and I'm your guide on this virtual tour of history. Today, we'll be discussing movies and theatres. We'll look at drive-in theatres, the movies of 1962, theatres along US-23, and the movie industry in 1962. As usual, we see how these relate to the world then, the world before, and the world today. It's a way to add to the FUN by discussing a different topic every other week, usually related to the segment of US-23 we just traveled. I hope this will allow those of you who don't know 1962 a chance to learn about it, and those of you who were there a chance to remember. By the time we travel from Mackinaw City, Michigan to Jacksonville, Florida, you should have a good idea of just how 1962 fits into both today and yesterday! Time now to see what's playing while we check out a little history.
We stopped last night at the US-23 Drive-In Theater just south of Flint, Michigan, but what would we have seen in 1962? First, we need to look at what movies were released in 1962. I found one list that claims only 110 movies were released in the United States that year. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists 2,230 movies. A lot of these are foreign movies that played in very few theaters and probably even fewer drive-ins. The World Book Year Book 1963 notes that only 138 films were in production in the U.S. in 1962, so this is probably closer to what we could have seen in one year at that time. How about if we look at what movies made the most money in the US, as a way to gauge what we may have seen? The list begins with the James Bond movie, "Dr. No", at $16.1 million. While it would have been an excellent choice to see and was released in Britain on October 5, 1962, it was not released here until May 8, 1963. So we can’t see that yet.
Only two other films took in more than $10 million in 1962, and both of them had John Wayne in the cast! "Hatari" and "How the West Was Won" might have played in drive-ins, as more screens would have helped them gross that much money. Hey, how about an Elvis Presley movie? Elvis could sure draw the teenagers that used to flock to the drive-ins! There were two Elvis movies in 1962, but "Girls! Girls! Girls!" didn't come out until November. That's beyond the drive-in season in most of the country. His other movie, "Kid Galahad" was released in August though, just in time to see before summer ended. Other musical stars of the day, including Pat Boone and Bobby Darin, were in "State Fair", which probably means that movie was also at the drive-ins.
Another type of movie that usually played the drive-ins was monster or horror movies, and 1962 had its share of those. How about one just made for the teenage crowd, "Eeagh", with teenagers stumbling across a prehistoric caveman? Maybe the iconic "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" featuring a head kept alive after decapitation. Or we could choose "Tower of London", featuring that favorite of horror flicks, Vincent Price, and ghosts haunting the King of England. "The Day Of The Triffids" is another horror movie from 1962, but once again that was a British release and it didn't get here until next year, so that's out. Similarly, "King Kong vs. Godzilla" came here in 1963 after its 1962 Japanese release. So popular were monsters, that singer Bobby "Boris" Pickett recorded the novelty song, "Monster Mash" in 1962. This spoofed the monster movies, was re-released several times over the years, and is still popular.
Besides monster movies, kids movies were popular at drive-ins. As I remember from my childhood, it was common to get the kids into their pajamas and go see an animated movie at a drive-in. "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" was such a movie, spanning both the kids and monster movies, as it had dragons and such. "Gay Purr-ee" was another cartoon, released in October so only the folks down south would have seen it at a drive-in in 1962. This was a musical featuring the voices of Judy Garland, Robert Goulet and Red Buttons, along with Warner Brothers' famed voice talent, Mel Blanc.
The idea of a drive-in theater seemed really cool: what could be more comfortable than watching a great movie right in your own car? Turns out it was not so comfortable after all and the teenagers probably adopted it only because it was the one place they could be alone, away from parents and crowds. With poor speaker quality, people walking and driving in front of you, rain, cold, lack of air conditioning, expensive food, and more, watching the movie was nowhere near as comfortable as sitting in a movie theater of the day. The phenomenon was already on its decline by 1962, from the 4063 drive-ins in the US in 1958, which is believed to be the high-water mark. By August 2006, there were only 397.
A real theater though, that was comfort! Many of the theaters had air conditioning, nicely upholstered seats, great sound systems (for the day, no Dolby surround sound then), and well-decorated lobbies and interiors. The food was still expensive, but the popcorn aroma throughout the theater made up for that! Some of these theaters were even opulent in decoration, with painted plaster, carvings, stained glass, chandeliers, and more. Those had been built in the 1920s as virtual palaces for entertainment. They even included Wurlitzer or Barton pipe organs for performances before the shows and at intermission.
The Ohio Theatre in Columbus, Ohio is one such theater. This movie house is a 2,779-seat Spanish-Baroque architectural masterpiece. It opened in 1928 and the Scottish-born architect, Thomas W. Lamb, himself described it as "a palace for the average man." At the Ohio and other theaters of the time, both movies and live stage shows played. These were the houses where vaudeville happened and entertainers who were still popular in 1962 got their start. People like including Milton Berle, Cab Calloway, Buddy Ebsen, Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers, and Jack Benny performed here.
And it was a true palace, with approximately $1,000,000 spent on art and furnishing, more than the cost of the building itself! Artifacts from Africa were used in decorating the lower lounge, called appropriately the "Africa Corner." Eventually, the suburban sprawl of the 1960s drew traffic out of downtown and the Ohio, like many other beautiful theatres of the past, was headed for demolition. The theater chain, Loew's, closed it in 1969. But the citizens mounted a "Save the Ohio" campaign, and raised over $2 million in less than a year. They formed the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA), which renovated the building and created creating a home for Columbus' performing arts institutions. Similar efforts have saved the grand theaters in Saginaw, Michigan, Ashland, Kentucky, Joliet, Illinois, and other cities along US-23 and US-6.
Of course, not all the theaters open in 1962 were palaces. Many were built in more spartan styles, of plain brick or concrete block, with bare walls or curtains covering the walls. Some had worn seating, no carpeting, or ugly restrooms. And there were some new, suburban movie houses also. A major highway like US-23 would pass by all three types, because it entered cities along the newly growing corridors, passed through older, established neighborhoods, and usually went right through downtowns. So we would have our choice of where to see movies. And the movies to choose from were great! Film historians generally recognize 1939 as the most impressive year for movies. But Mike McClellean, vice president of film at Landmark Theatres, and Stephen Farber, a writer for Movieline magazine, argue that 1962 was the gold standard in filmmaking...both in the U.S. and abroad. Here's a listing of some of the better known movies of the year; what do you think?
Some of the major movies of 1962:
- Birdman of Alcatraz - with Burt Lancaster,
- Days of Wine and Roses - with Jack Lemmon, music by Henri Mancini,
- Gypsy - with Natalie Wood,
- Lawrence of Arabia - with Peter O'Toole,
- Mutiny on the Bounty - with Marlon Brando,
- Requiem for a Heavyweight - with Anthony Quinn,
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - with James Stewart and John Wayne,
- The Road To Hong Kong - the last Bob Hope / Bing Crosby "road" film,
- That Touch of Mink - with Cary Grant and Doris Day
- In Search of the Castaways - one of 3 Disney movies for 1962, with Haley Mills,
- To Kill a Mockingbird - with Gregory Peck,
- The Music Man - with Robert Preston,
- Cape Fear - with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum,
- Lolita - with Peter Sellers and directed by Stanley Kubrick,
- The Miracle Worker - with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke,
- Five Weeks in a Balloon - with Red Buttons, Fabian and Barbara Eden,
- Sweet Bird of Youth - with Paul Newman,
- And a cartoon that is one of my favorites, from the point of view of a 10-year old, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol - with Jim Backus as the voice of Quincy Magoo.
This was the year that Marilyn Monroe died. What was happening in the lives of other movie stars? In the week of March 21, 1962, it was found that actress Veronica Lake, a star of the 1940s, was working as a part time hostess in the cocktail lounge of a Manhattan hotel and going by the name of Connie DeToth. Singer Eddie Fisher had a nervous breakdown that week and went to a private midtown Manhattan hospital, apparently crushed by the collapse of his marriage to actress Elizabeth Taylor. Also this week, dancer Juliet Prowse announced she was terminating her contract with 20th Century-Fox for alleged breach of agreement. Miss Prowse charged the company failed to pay money due her and did not honor her right to appear in media other than films. She also recently broke her engagement to singer Frank Sinatra.
Besides Marilyn Monroe, other film folks who died in 1962 included Charles Laughton, just finishing his role as Captain Bligh in this year's "Mutiny on The Bounty"; Quinn Williams, a cowboy actor from the 1920s; director Michael Curtiz, who won an Academy Award for directing "Casablanca"; and Anthony Marlowe, who appeared in the 1943 version of "Phantom of the Opera", another version of which was released in 1962.
How about people who made their film acting debuts in 1962? Several we recognize today, who started then, include Sydney Pollack, who later directed "Out of Africa" and "Tootsie" and continued to act, even appearing on TV in an episode of "The Sopranos"; Robert Redford, who debuted with Sydney Pollack in "War Hunt"; Robert Duvall in "To Kill A Mockingbird"; and John Hurt in the more obscure film "The Wild and the Willing."
And of course, there are movie stars today who were born in 1962, including Demi Moore (November 11), Beth Toussaint (September 25), Nicholas Turturro ( January 29), Jim Carrey (January 17), Wesley Snipes (July 31), Joan Cusack (October 11), Jodie Foster (November 19), Matthew Broderick (March 21), and Tom Cruise (July 3).
The movie industry itself was also going through some turmoil in 1962, for several reasons. Outsourcing was a big threat to Hollywood even that long ago. About 26 percent of the year's movies were shot, at least in part, outside the U.S. At that time they called it "runaway" production instead of outsourcing. Unions were pressing for domestic production quotas, but the movie studios noted that such action may be counterproductive. Nearly 50% of the revenue from U.S. films was earned overseas, and if foreign countries retaliated against trade restrictions, movie studios could lose out. Revenue loss to television was also a concern, and experiments with pay-television were being conducted on both coasts. The trend toward small, independent producers also continued as another way to cut costs. They typically shot films outside of Hollywood, or rented the facilities of the larger studios. Cutting costs was important because of recent excesses including Mutiny On The Bounty. This film cost over $22 million and was the second most expensive film ever made to date. Only the still incomplete Cleopatra had cost more at $35 million and the consensus was that it would never make a profit.
Censorship was another major concern. The Georgia Supreme Court stripped the City of Atlanta's censor, Christine Gilliam Smith, or her powers. She tried to return as a reviewer later in 1962, fining theaters that did not display her rating. Chicago adopted a policy of film classifications, and New York had a censor board that was challenged in court. The New York board lost on specific films but the licensing laws there were upheld. The trend in most of the country was toward a rating system such as we are familiar with today. The phrase "No One Under Sixteen Will Be Admitted Unless Accompanied By An Adult" became common with films such as "Lolita", "Cape Fear", and "Sweet Bird Of Youth." No precise definitions of obscene were created, however.
And of course, the future was just starting, as the first multiple screen theater opened in 1962. Starting with the opening of the Cinema I-Cinema II in New York City in June 1962, the idea was to make more money in a single location. This was to be achieved by sharing the costs of the box office, entrance, lobby, restrooms and concession stand. In February, the trade publication Boxoffice called it "a revolutionary concept in screen entertainment", and it turned out they were correct. Today we are quite used to seeing multi-plexes with 6, 10 and upwards of a dozen theaters.
Let's go back out to the car and see what drive-ins still exist along US-23. Beginning at the north end, the first open drive-in is the one we visited in Flint, Michigan: the US-23 Drive-In. Next is the South Drive-In Theatre in Columbus, Ohio. That's a long way between drive-ins, highlighting just how few we'll find still open for business. Ohio must like its retro entertainment though, because there is another just down the road in Lucasville: the Scioto Breeze Drive-In. Unfortunately, after that there are NO open drive-ins along US-23 in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, or North Carolina. Georgia makes up for that deficit though. There is the Tiger Drive-In Theatre in Tiger, Georgia, on old US-23. And Atlanta has an open drive-in right on our road: the Starlight Six Drive-In. Over the years, they've even added screens and now have six! If we would have made this trip in 2007, we could have included the Playtime Drive-In Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida. It was the Jacksonville area's last remaining drive-in, but it closed in 2008. So all we have left on the entire route is one drive-in in Michigan, two in Ohio, and two in Georgia.
I looked over the list of movies of 1962 and could not recognize any that I remembered seeing in a theater or drive-in. Of course, I was only 9 most of that year so I may have forgotten something since then. Today though, I have the luxury of renting or buying many of them and viewing them in the comfort of my home on my own TV. In fact, I can download movies and watch them on my laptop while I'm sitting in a motel room! Couldn't do any of that in 1962 unless you could afford your own projection room and equipment, just like a theater. I think I'll watch "Days of Wine and Roses" for the Henri Mancini score, microwave some popcorn, and pretend I'm out to a theater tonight. Then, I'll see you next week back on our ROADTRIP-'62 ™ journey along old US-23!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.