Hearne: KCK’s Boulevard Drive In Survives Good & Bad Times – In Car, On Screen Sex

Summer’s almost done, but it’s still not too late to check out your friendly, neighborhood drive in movie theater

You’re out under the stars, holding court in the front of your car, the bed of your pickup and/or in the lawn chair of your choice. The massive outdoor movie screen glaring back at you.

Kind of like a poor man’s Starlight Theatre

Or as the Web site driveinmovie.com describes it – celebrating "the presence of the past." Which worked for me since my trip to KCK’s Boulevard Drive In Saturday entailed watching a sendup to the 60s sci-fi hit, "Planet of the Apes."

While affording me the opportunity to grill the longtime owner of the "world’s greatest drive in theatre," octogenarian Wes Neal.

Starting with the quadruple bypass heart surgery he had on his 82nd birthday.

"I told the surgeon I was going to draw a cartoon of me on the operating table," Neal says. "And him swinging an ax and saying, ‘Happy Birthday!’ "

Speaking of memorable moments…

"In two more years it’ll be our 60th birthday at the drive in," Neal says. "If I’m still living then. I’m sort of easing into retirement."

Neal says the first ever drive in movie theater in this country went downin  1933 with a sheet for a screen and a projector on a car hood. Which doesn’t exactly explain why Americans fell in love with the concept in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

"Drive ins didn’t become prominent until after World War II and all these soldiers came home and bought cars," Neal explains. "And people didn’t want to give up their cars – they wanted to be in their cars."

Might that have had something to do with the stricter morals of the day and the need for young men and women to find a getaway for some romantic quality time? After all, they didn’t call drive in theaters called "passion pits" for nothing, right?

"Well, you just told me," Neal quips.

So did Neal have to patrol the parking lot with flashlights back then to limit the in-car hanky-panky to an R-rating?

"No, we didn’t," Neal says. "We didn’t want to run away half of our customers – or a third, anyway."

These days, "There’s not as much smooching going on," Neal says. "People don’t care what their kids do (at home)."

Translation: nobdody needs to go to a drive in to find love.

The wildest thing that ever went down at the Boulevard over the years?

"A lot of people for one reason or another – mostly because they could – put their hands up in front of the projector so it showed on the screen," Neal says. "People used to like to do that."

Man, that’s what I call wild!

How about the sneak in factor? Looks like it might not be that hard to pull off.

"They used to come over the fence in droves," Neal says. "Now you can’t pay ’em to sneak in. People ask me, do people still sneak in and I say, ‘No, I wish they would.’ Because they pay $8 to get in and it costs me $9 to put on the show. So I’d make a dollar."

Neal’s had his share of celebrity visits as well. No Academy Award winners, but people like actress Elizabeth James, the motorcycle-riding hottie/damsel in distress in the 1967 Billy Jack movie "The Born Losers."

"I asked her if she liked riding motocycles," Neal says. "And she said, ‘Never been on one.’ "

Now a little empirical wisdom gleaned from Neal’s 50 years of operating a drive in theater.

"Drive ins are noted for three things," he muses "Corndogs, mosquitoes and trains – I don’t know why so many drive ins are built near train tracks ."

Estimates peg the number of drive ins in the US at between 4,000 and 5,000 in the late 1950s. However, less than 500 still exist, according to drive-ins.com.

Are they here to stay?

"I don’t think so," Neal says. "Because eventually the property’s going to get too (valuable). And a lot of ’em are owned by mom and pops like me. And when they die off…"

The first wave of drive ins dying off followed their wildly popular run in the 50s, 60s and early 70s, Neal says.

"Then in the 80s, the bottom just dropped out," Neal says.

The drive in customers of today are "middle class people, mostly 20 to 40,"he  says. "And several older people come. They like it because they remember how drive ins used to be."

Speaking of which, did the Boulevard ever show X-Rated movies?

"We did way back when all the drive ins were closing," Neal says. "Everybody tried X-rated movies, but it didn’t work."

These days the Boulevard’s weekend swap meets help keep the wolf away from the door.

"That’s been the salvation of this drive in," Neal says.

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15 Responses to Hearne: KCK’s Boulevard Drive In Survives Good & Bad Times – In Car, On Screen Sex

  1. bschloz says:

    Great Post
    So many people in this town that are getting it done. And have been doing so for such a long time.
    Nice to read some good news.
    Did you play on the jungle jim before the movie?

  2. mark smith says:

    You can fit 5 people in the trunk of a Fairlane
    We still have 3 drive in’s in the area if I’m not mistaken. One out east off 291, the one over on 40 hwy, and this one. So we have a pretty good slice of the pie. Good write up Hearne, although I’d be remiss if I let you off without at least one cheap shot. I’m picturing you pulling up to the speaker in that Fiat, probably tipped your car over when you hooked the speaker on the window. Two movies come to mind when I think of the drive in. The Exorcist and True Grit. I saw them both at the fairyland (no seacrest). Something about those dry burgers in the foil pouch that made them taste better. Later it was the midnight madness shows at the Crest. Cheech n Chong, Fritz the Cat…. Hippy Chicks…Good times.

  3. Hearne Christopher says:

    Nope, had to pin down Wes before the Apes took over!

  4. Super Dave says:

    many great times had at the local drive ins
    Back in the day the Boulevard was one of several drive ins in Johnson county and we went to them all. These so called tailgaters today are doing nothing new hell we was doing it 45 or more years ago. Only we was smarter got to see three movies and paid a hell of a lot less to have a great time.

    Sex???? If you were going to the drive in back then and not having some sort of sex you was either too old, a prude, married with children in back seat, or one real big loser.

    The Shawnee Drive In was the favorite hangout for most of us was close to where most lived, where everyone knew your name and seem to have the shows we wanted to see. Plus nothing is cooler than to look up and see your face on the screen during the showing of a movie you was in and listening to the car horns honking because all knew Super Dave was on the screen and in the house.

    The wildest night I do believe did took place at the Boulevard drive in. We had gone to see the movie Shaft the original with Richard Roundtree and I swear 3 vans of white people we was in a sea of black people watching for the most part a black movie. But all was cool and going great till Roundtree put the make on the white chick and that place went NUTS. All us white people ( I think was 12 in our group ) was wondering if maybe it was best if we got the fuck out of there. After a lot of horn honking, hearing at least 500 mother you know what being screamed, drinks, beer cans and what not flying towards the screen things calmed down. We offered beer to the huge dude beside us to replace the one he threw and all was good again, least till the mosquitoes moved in but cigars took care of that even our neighbor for the night fired up one with us.

  5. Hearne Christopher says:

    I think you have my Fiat mixed up with Fred Flintsone’s car.

    My drive in movies were few, but I remember seeing the Christine Jorgensen Story and Willard. Can’t believe I just admitted that!

  6. chuck says:

    Best ever.
    Great story, great interview.

    I saw “Ticket to Ride” at the Leawood Drive In.

    “Planet of the Apes” in 1967 (68??) before I got drafted, with Vicky Golden (Who was later murdered.). One of the best nights of my life. The CREST DRIVE IN!!

    Snuck into the “Heart” Drive In (Can’t remember where that was.) and Billy R. Jimmy M. and I had to actually run to the car to get away from an ass kickin. 🙂 (BTW, We really didn’t know why people were pissed at us, kinda weird.)

    My dad and mom, would pop pop corn in a big pan, then pour it into a paper sack, bring candy and we were off to the DRIVE IN!!

    Remember everybody parking backwards with stationwagons, and lawn chairs, and enjoying the summer with a great flick?

    I remember my dad, telling me that we HAD TO GO, NOW! TO SEE “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, cause he loved John Wayne so much.

    What a great time.

    My dad loved that flick.

    Lee Marvin (My dad had medals from WW2, Just like Lee.).

    Jimmy Stewart, and his hero, John Wayne, in a great flick.

    John Wayne never actually went to war. My dad didn’t give a fuck. My dad, he got all John Wayne’s medals, and he was ok with that.

    Great article Hearne.

    No shit.

  7. Robertoe says:

    The Boulevard is primo!
    I’m loving this story and the comments!

    We’ve all got great drive in stories. My fav was the Leawood at 123rd and St Line! Man did I swap some spit there to Billy Jack movies. But Hearne is focusing on the place to go now. The Boulevard! I was just reminiscing about this kinda drive in shit a month ago. So I rallied the troops and did a Drive Inn night at the Boulevard 3 weeks ago. Captain America and Cowboys and Aliens. We had maybe 2 dozen with a nice bevy of babes. I brought Archie the pig and we revived old drive in stories. Trains barreling by. The Boulevard is the place to go. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I vowed to do it again in the Fall. I’m going to! and I’ll post location and row number here. All would be welcome. Lets do it.

  8. harley says:

    Boulevard drive in original owners
    they were the gatzoulis family. The father paul owned mission animal clinic…where we took all
    our dogs while growing up.
    doc gatzoulis was a lot of fun…great personality….big time gambler…and a true legend in the
    early vegas years.
    I think wes was the manager when g owned the drive in…then took over from the original
    Many great times down there….remember watching the movies in spanish one night while
    I GOT some tang in the back seat. smoke so much that thecar was filled with smoke…
    when we got out and stumbled to the concession stand the entire area got a good
    whiff of some increidble smoke!

  9. smartman says:

    No Static at All
    Got a collection of those old drive in speaker/heaters.

    Now you just tune in on your car stereo or boom box. Used to hit the State and Lakeside in KCK + another whose name I can’t recall of off K32. Still go to the I-70. Toss a mattress and some pillows in the back of the truck. Light a couple of citronella candles, break out the home made mojitos, cop a feel or two and life is fucking grand!

    Claim to fame is eating 17 corndogs without a bong assist at the State during the KY Labor Day Midnight Movie Marathon in 1978. That feat solidified me as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs my senior year.

    Wish they would stay open longer in fall and winter like they did back in the day. Load up a Vista Cruiser or VW Bus Everybody put in $20 and play freeze out or dutch oven.

    My parents generation may have been The Greatest Generation but mine was by far The Funnest Generation.

  10. kcfred says:

    drive ins
    I used to be the ramp boy/concessions guy/dude who made sure you didn’t sneak into the exit/lot pick up boy through high school in the upper midwest. Redstone Theatres (run by gazillionaire Sumner Redstone) were known for their massive size (800 cars), and their cleanliness. I was the guy who made sure you were going into the right box office, then would rent you a propane heater if you wanted one (death trap), would patrol the parking lot looking for sneakers, would run concessions at intermission, would make sure everyone was out and then come back at noon and clean up the lot. There was a hole in the fence where I would charge a joint for entrance (this was 71-73 and what a collection I acquired) and if I caught you sneaking in I’d charge you admission price and then keep it 🙂 Cleaning up the lot the next day was always a treat because ya just never knew what you’d find. Syringes, shit filled diapers, drugs, money (found a $100 bill one day) used condoms, you name it, I found it. The lot was so clean when I got done, the grass perfectly cut around the playground and the concession stand was always spotless. What a glorious way to spend three summers in high school. After high school, I joined the ranks of Redstone and worked my way up to regional Vice President before moving on. Yes, Sumner Redstone actually told me a joke and slapped me on the back once. Thanks for the memory trip, Hearne, drive ins hold a very special place in my heart. It was the most fun I’ve ever had while earning $1.25 an hour. The Boulevard is great entertainment and very well run. Thanks for the brain storm on what to do on what is known as the busiest weekend in the summer, labor day. Labor Day 1971 “Big Jake” with John Wayne was playing and it’s the only time I can remember where we sold out 800 places. 800 cars. Wow.

  11. PB says:

    the Drive-In!

    To chuck, the Heart was located on 40 Hwy right where it crosses 70 just west of Manchester Tfwy. I believe the screen was still standing until a few years ago. One of my earliest movie memories was seeing Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid w/ Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (which was pretty risque for a 9-year old, but I’m guessing parents were hoping we’d be asleep by then) at the Whitestone Bridge in the Bronx.

    Once moved to this part of the country seemingly every burg in KS had it’s own drive-in. Ones now defunct that I still recall in KC area…Fairyland, Crest, Heart, State, 63rd…I hit them all at some point. Favorite or most traumatic moment…Fairyland trying to capitalize on his post-Rocky fame, Sly Stallone in a late nite soft-porn flick retitled, The Italian Stallion.

    And did anybody else do the trunk sneak? Luckily for us, it never turned out like that classic Cheech & Chong drive-in bit.

  12. smartman says:

    Brilliant! ROFLMAO!

    Will keep a smile on my face all day.

  13. chuck says:

    Great story!!!

  14. George Wilson says:

    NIce Article, Hearne
    Really well done. One of the most enjoyable posts I have read in a long time. Quality by any standard of measurement. Congratulations.

  15. Cliffy says:

    I didn’t grow up in KC but it’s easy to see that drive-in movie stories are universal. Great times.

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