The drive-in is the most perfect expression of America in the 20th Century. The combination of cars, movies, streets, highways, families and teenage lust through the darkness of night is impossible to top. The fact that the drive-in has virtually disappeared only adds to the mystique of the experience.
People automatically picture the 1950s when they think about drive-ins but that was the boom era, drive-ins actually started in the early 1930s, mostly along the east coast. Cities such as Camden, N.J., and Orefield, Penn. were the first to attempt this strange idea of showing movies to people as they would sit in their cars, isolated from their fellow film watchers.
The privacy of the automobile is part of the appeal of the drive-in. People can sit in their vehicle and do whatever they want. Talk loudly, fall asleep, eat food brought from home, drink beverages they aren't supposed to drink, let the kids misbehave and, obviously, fool around with who they came with if you felt like it. While those things aren't impossible to do at a regular theatre, they are more fun at the drive-in because fewer restrictions create the feeling of more freedom to do what you want -- a trait that Americans love.
The 1940s were naturally not a good decade for the drive-in due to World War II, but the end of the decade began to see a drastic upswing in the amount of theatres opening around the country. The post-war economy and changing culture were about to create the drive-in boom of the 1950s. By 1958, there were 5,000 drive-ins in operation, from the mammoth 3,000 car Troy Drive-In in Detroit to the puny 50 car Highway Drive-In in Bamberg, S.C.
It all went downhill from there for the drive-in. The 1960s saw less theatres being built and those that stayed open began to shift their focus from families to teenagers and more adult-orientated fare.
For many operating drive-ins during the 1970s and 1980s, an evening at the drive-in was an assortment of exploitation, b-films and x-rated -- anything to keep the cars pulling through the ticket gate.
The Tulsa area has had its share of drive-ins throughout the years. There was the Airview, the Apache, the Bellaire, the Capri, the 51, the Skyline, the Teepee and the Admiral Twin. If that last one seems familiar, that's because it's one of the few drive-ins that survived the dark days, never closed and is still going strong, 60 years after it first opened on May 24, 1951.
In 1951, the theatre was called The Modernaire, and it had only one screen.
The Modernaire was so popular in its first year that a second screen was added during the off-season. A new name was needed to reflect the additional screen and since the theatre was next to Admiral Boulevard, The Admiral Twin Drive-In was born.
Driving by the Admiral Twin on a pleasant, weekend summer night is always a magical sight. It's amazing more accidents don't occur as people sneak a peek at whatever is playing on the enormous screens.
The lot is often full of people sitting in chairs near their vehicles. Groups are small or large, some have children, others have pets.
In this era of the cookie cutter multiplex, people are choosing to step into the nostalgic past when they watch a movie at the drive-in.
Blake Smith, who has owned the Admiral Twin Drive-In since 2000, thinks it's the differences between the two environments that make the drive-in an unique movie-watching experience.
"When you go to slick multiplexes with as many as 20 or more screens, it's a sterile experience," Smith said. "When you go to the drive-in, it still feels like it did in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s."
To Smith, the fact that the drive-in is more open and outside is important to its appeal as well.
"When you go to the multiplex, you are sitting next to someone in a crowded auditorium with people on their cell phones, texting or talking," he said. "At the drive-in, if you want to do any of that, you are not bothering anyone else -- you can just hang out with friends and family. The atmosphere at the drive-in can't be reproduced at a multiplex."
The name Admiral Twin has a powerful connection to some Tulsans. Jarrod Gollihare and his band mates chose Admiral Twin as their name in 1997.
"We wanted a name that had kind of a "pop sparkle" to it, and we really liked the tie-in to Tulsa," Gollihare said.
The name has lasted 13 years, five albums and causes a lot of frequently asked questions on the connection of the band's name to the drive-in. Plus, it inspires an endless amount of stories about sneaking in to watch movies in automobile trunks.
"As far as I can tell from these stories, the whole family, fraternity, football team or science club got into the Admiral Twin Drive in the trunk of their Chrysler," Gollihare said.
Gollihare doesn't think it is strictly a nostalgia trip causing people to go to the drive-in in 2010.
"The reason why the Admiral Twin Drive-In still packs them in every summer weekend is that most people just like to sit outside and watch a movie," he said. "It's still a novel feeling after all these years. Plus, if kids get restless, they can just run around the cars a few times."
Certainly UTW knows a thing or two about good timing and teaming with local, iconic venues. The paper's semi-annual glossy guide, Spring Thing, published last week, featured the historic Admiral Twin location on its Cover.
But if there is a quintessential movie connected to the Admiral Twin Drive-In, it would undoubtedly be 1983's The Outsiders. The roots of this movie run deep in Tulsa. Written as a paperback by a Tulsan, S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders was published in 1967, and it became an important book for young adults for its timeless themes.
The movie version, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring a legendary cast of barely known actors at the time (Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe), has also been embraced by a passionate cult audience. Shot on location throughout Tulsa, the Admiral Twin Drive-In plays a part in a lengthy, key scene early in the movie.
Damon Fell, who was the City Manager for the Admiral Twin's owners General Cinema during the filming, fondly recalls renting the drive-in to Coppola (Fell also appears as the cashier in the drive-in concession scene).
"It was a snowy day when we showed Coppola around the drive-in," Fell said. "He was singing and dancing in the snow. We actually walked over to a drainage ditch and showed him where kids snuck in, and he ended up using the exact same spot in the movie."
The Admiral Twin was booked for two nights of filming, from sundown to sunup, but a third night was required.
"If you look close, some shots are windier than other shots, those were from the third night of filming when it was really windy that night," Fell said.
People from other areas are drawn to the drive-in throughout the year simply because they saw it in The Outsiders. One such person is James Clarke, a Dallas filmmaker working on a documentary titled The Tulsa Connection to The Outsiders that chronicles the ties between city and film.
Clarke has been obsessed with the film since he saw it on opening day (it was also his birthday) in 1983.
"My mother asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and I said, 'I don't know about you, but I'm going to see The Outsiders and nothing else matters,'" Clarke said.
In terms of the Admiral Twin's importance to the film as a location, Clarke rates it high on the list.
"It's one of the most important locations because it is still here, and it hasn't changed according to people that have lived in Tulsa all their lives," he said. "I think it's the first topic of discussion when talking about locations."
Smith added, "People show up all year and come early to take pictures where they recognize bits from the movie."
As much as Clarke loves The Outsiders, he's never actually watched a film at the Admiral Twin Drive-In. That changes on April 24, when the drive-in will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a special screening of The Outsiders.
There will be Greasers and Socs, who were extras in the film, local crew, vintage cars, props from the movie, and Clarke will be filming it all for the documentary.
I'm kind of an old-fashioned person in many ways and that causes me to have one big issue with the Admiral Twin Drive-In that needs to be fixed -- the clunky metal speakers that would attach to half-rolled down windows need to be brought back. I don't care if the audio sounds better on FM, I want my nostalgia with scratchy audio and the danger of driving off the lot and taking home a souvenir from my evening. I might be in the minority on this one.
"That's more than doubtful," Smith said. "I'm happy with the radio sound and people stole the metal speakers all the time."
Even without the speakers making a comeback, I'll always love the Admiral Twin and every other drive-in that still survives. They give me that prideful, patriotic swell, and that's something only a few things I come across can do.
Share this article: