vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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A Lombard flick...at a drive-in? It happened in her lifetime

This photo of Carole Lombard with her car was taken by the esteemed Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1938. And the year after this, she could have taken that auto of hers, driven not far from her new Encino ranch home, and done something more culturally associated with future generations.

For years, I've wondered whether any Lombard film ever played at a drive-in theater during her lifetime. Today, I found concrete proof at least one did.

The June 22, 1939 Los Angeles Times listed "Made For Each Other" at the San-Val drive-in in Burbank, with "Shadows Over Shanghai" on the undercard. It should be noted that elsewhere, "Made For Each Other" -- released at the start of the year -- was now the second feature, such as the Colony in Hollywood, where it was second-billed to "Stagecoach."

We rarely associate drive-ins with the pre-World War II era, but a handful of them existed. The first opened in Camden, N.J. in June 1933, and the following year one opened in Los Angeles at Pico and Westwood boulevards. It's entirely possible the curious Carole visited the venue, though I don't know if any of her films played there.

The Valley (San Fernando or San Gabriel? With Burbank, one can never be sure) joined the fun in June 1938.

Did Lombard drive to Burbank to see how one of her movies played outdoors? History hasn't recorded whether that happened, but one later star did -- Facebook friend Mamie Van Doren, who as a young girl in South Dakota saw Lombard and Clark Gable arrive at an airport. In a 2000 LA Times retrospective on drive-ins, she said, "I often attended drive-ins around Hollywood, many times with my mother in the front seat. We were there to critique one of my films. At the drive-in, no one would know I was watching my own work." (https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2000-aug-26-ca-10584-story.html)

But even Mamie in bullet bra blown up to colossal proportions couldn't distract many drive-in patrons from what they had come for...a little intimacy with their partners (or making some "front-page drive-in news," as Bob Seger would put it so beautifully in "Night Moves"). Drive-ins were to 1950s and '60s America what rumble seats were to their Jazz Age parents, a place to explore adolescent sexuality.

The San-Val thrived for many years, and was even used for a scene in James Cagney's 1949 gem "White Heat," but time caught up with the place, as this 1972 marquee showing "Superfly" indicates.

Urbanization, the rising cost of land, and changing youth culture led to the drive-in's decline from the '80s on. Now there are only a few hundred left -- but they may have a new lease on life thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing.

With indoor theaters shut down, places such as the Family Drive-In in Stephens City, Va., just south of Winchester and not far from Washington, are doing boffo business (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/30/drive-in-theaters-covid-open/). And at a Facebook site titled "Drive-In Movie Theater Fan Club," a man tells of how he bought an old drive-in site in southeast Michigan, is completely rebuilding it and hopes to show movies sometime in 2021 (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1712357949009956/).

That's a happy ending Lombard and James Stewart would cheer.


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