A Look Back at the Calvert Drive-In
Aug 06, 2013 | 3072 views | 0 0 comments | 113 113 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A young Paul Harrington, Sr. working in the theater business. 

Courtesy of the Harrington family
A young Paul Harrington, Sr. working in the theater business. Courtesy of the Harrington family
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Paul and Evelyn Harrington purchased a ten acre plot of land from Dora Draffen just outside of Calvert City on Highway 95 in 1953 with the dream of opening a drive-in. In the 1950s, there were more than four thousand drive-in theaters in the United States and five alone were in Marshall County at that time.

Paul Harrington, Sr. began in the theater business as a popcorn popper when he was eleven years old and he eventually worked his way to projectionist which was a very technical job for those days. From there he graduated to building and designing drive-ins for the Ruffin Amusement Company. He bought the Calvert Theatre in 1949 which was an indoor theatre on Main Street in Calvert City.

The grand opening for Calvert Drive-In was on Friday, July 3, 1953 with the showing of The Pathfinder and The King of Congo. The price for admission was only thirty-five cents and the Calvert Drive-In operated on only seven employees.

Within the first year, business was steady, but began to take off especially after Calvert Drive-In became the first drive-in in the area to show a Technicolor picture. The movie was Miss Sadie Thompson starring Rita Hayworth and the film was considered controversial by many due to its suggestive nature. To see what all the fuss was about, cars packed the Calvert Drive-In to see the popular movie in April 1954.

In the early years, movie studios would often send out movie stars to many of the drive-ins as an attraction during opening night of a film in order to boost attendance. One of the biggest stars to visit the Calvert Drive-In was Al “Fuzzy” St. John, a famous comical sidekick in many movies throughout the golden era of motion pictures. Country music star Cowboy Copas also visited the drive-in and sang a few songs on the roof of the drive-in building. Copas was later killed in the same plane crash that killed country superstar Patsy Cline.

Over the years, several generations of the Harrington family have worked at the Drive-In in one capacity or another. Drive-In owner Evelyn Harrington, who just turned 100 years young this year, sold tickets at the gate until she was 86. Mrs. Harrington is also responsible for introducing the famous Calvert Drive-In cheeseburger. She began cooking the burgers in the 1960s and every year, long lines form for one of these mouth watering cheeseburgers.

The Drive-In business began to take a hit in the mid-1950s with the wide availability of television. Many would go to the movies to watch newsreels to stay update to date on current events, but when televisions became available people could stay home and watch the news in the comfort of their own homes. Politics in Hollywood hurt the business in the 1950s as well. Drive-Ins began to get a bad reputation for playing B-rated movies and many began to go out of business.

Despite the rough patches throughout the years, the Calvert Drive-In survived and business continues to thrive today. According to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, there are only a total of 366 drive-ins in the entire United States today. The Calvert Drive-In is the only of its kind in western Kentucky and people travel from miles around to enjoy a show in the open air.

Drive-Ins are a link to America’s past and the Calvert Drive-In continues to keep this unique form of entertainment alive.

Sources:

Tribune Democrat, April 1954

Tribune Democrat, Feb. 1953

“Local Drive In Offers Unique Experience”; www.thenews.org

Interview: John Harrington, 2013

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