Hattiesburg — The Beverly Drive-In, the only known drive-in movie theater in the state that’s operating, is not just showing movies. The Highway 49 icon is also introducing some of today’s children and teenagers to a slice of Americana.
If you grew up in the 1950s, maybe even the 60s, you remember the fun of going to drive-in movie theaters. As a kid, there was something magical about sitting in a dark car with your family while a movie flickered on a giant screen. The characters were truly bigger than life. The squawky sound box was attached to a car window and in the summer competed with chirping crickets and croaking frogs. You could even go in your pajamas and fall asleep in the back seat.
Under the huge screen, the concession stand’s glowing lights beckoned with temptations of popcorn, cokes (in South Mississippi every soft drink was called a “coke”) and candy. It was a thrill to walk through the dark night past parked cars to the concession stand, gravel crunching under your shoes.
The teen years brought a whole new meaning to drive-in movies. There were tales of smuggling an extra person into theaters by hiding them in the trunk of a car. And of course, sometimes there was more action in the cars than on the screen.
Pity those who’ve never been to a drive-in movie theater. For a time drive-ins proliferated the country but went into decline as television and multi-screen theater complexes burgeoned.
The Beverly Drive-In was closed for 15 years and reopened in 2000, according to manager Gracie McDaniel of Beaumont. The present owner, Ron Cash of Mobile, purchased it one year ago. She says the nearest operating drive-in is in Foley, Ala., a six-hour drive from Hattiesburg.
“Where else can you see two movies for $6 per person?” Cash said. “Weekends are strong, and we’re hoping week day attendance will pick up in the summer. The people who reopened it were doing okay and we hope to do better.”
The owner says 2,000 people saw movies at the Beverly the evening of Mother’s Day. Four first-run movies are shown each night on the two screens.
“The idea is to always have a show for kids first, and they can come in their pajamas and go to sleep,” Cash said. “Then the parents can watch the second movie in peace.”
He says the Beverly Drive-In has “a lovely concession stand” with outdoor tables and chairs with umbrellas where families can eat before the movies start.
“We hope to develop a playground with rides for children and to restore the miniature golf course that was there,” Cash said. “The people who built the Beverly named it after their daughter, and I wouldn’t change the name for anything.”
Cash and McDaniel have been marketing the Beverly with local promotions like the one they recently did with Forrest General Hospital, giving free tickets to all employees. All military veterans got in free of charge during the Memorial Day weekend.
They have plans for concerts and other special promotions to call attention to the Beverly.
There will be an antique car show complete with cash prizes and a queen on September 11. Cash also plans to have entertainment and co-sponsors for this event. At dusk, all lights will be turned off for a few minutes. Everyone present will light a candle and a prayer will be said to commemorate the lives lost on that date in 2001.
“We’re hoping for a big turnout,” Cash said. “For one price, people can see the cars, a concert and a movie.”
The first U.S. drive-in opened in Camden, N.J., in 1933. At the height of their popularity, around 1950, there were approximately 3,775 drive-ins in the country. As of December 1997, according to The Boston Globe, only 815 screens remained and of that number only 432 were still in operation. Since 1990, 37 drive-ins have re-opened and 22 new ones have been built.
“I’m glad they’re coming back,” Cash said. “I grew up going to drive-ins. You could eat in the car and hug and neck with your girl. It was always fun.”
A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Cash has been involved with entertainment, hotels and restaurants all his business life. For a number of years he ran a talent agency and booked acts for Jewish resorts in the Catskill Mountains. He also served on Consumer Reports movie rating team.
He formed Ronell Productions a year-and-a-half ago and made an independent film, “Eyes in the Bayou.” It was shot in the Mobile area with David Shark Fralic, who plays Larry Wharton on the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” playing the lead character. Cash heard about the Beverly Drive-In through the film’s makeup artist who has relatives in Hattiesburg. He hopes to bring the stars of the film together and have an opening at the Beverly.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.