New Jersey’s dismal showing when it comes to drive-ins (there’s only one in the entire state) is particularly disheartening given that the uber-American experience of watching movies from a car got its start in Camden in June 1933. That’s when Richard Hollingshead, a film fan who worked at his father’s firm, Whiz Auto Products, opened the Automobile Movie Theatre. The first movie screened was the British comedy “Wives Beware,” starring Adolphe Menjou.
Hollingshead was not the first visionary to be too far ahead of his time: After failing to realize a profit for three years, he sold off the business but wisely held onto the patent, which was ruled invalid in 1950. Hollingshead’s lack of success may be traced in part to his less-than-scintillating marketing slogan: “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”
The current national distribution ratio of drive-ins is 1:1 million people. The largest number of drive-ins (28) is in New York state, followed by Pennsylvania (27). New Jersey’s neighbors may have a theater within driving distance.
As with everything else, COVID-19 has changed the drive-in experience. Many theaters are only selling tickets online. There’s a good chance concession stands have been closed, along with restrooms (check online). The drive-in definition of social distancing means cars separated by the width of at least one vehicle. Pass the popcorn please.