By Janice K. Jarosz
It was 1939, our country was at peace, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President and, in Saugus, Massachusetts, a brand-new open-air theater appeared at what is now the Marshalls Shopping Center, at the junction of Route One and Lynn Fells Parkway.
In those early years, Saugus was full of things to do, even though automobiles were at a premium. In Cliftondale there was an indoor movie house, in Saugus Center, a pool hall and the indoor State Theatre, and on the Pike, a golf driving range behind Russo’s Candy House, and another golf driving range where the present-day Square One Mall sits. Several churches hosted dances on the weekends and opened their gyms for weekly basketball games. There was plenty to do in Saugus, 1939.
At a time before home televisions, video games and the Web, a new “drive-in” theater opened. It was an added attraction for teenagers and young families to enjoy an evening of entertainment. Unfortunately, not too many families owned their own vehicles, but for those who did, their teenagers took out the weekly trash and made their beds in the hope of being allowed to borrow the family automobile for a date at the Saugus Drive-In.
The late Richard Boudette patronized the theater in his early dating years quite often. During an interview with him, he told me the story of how the ushers always knew who had kids in the trunks of their cars. The price of admittance was based on a per person fee, so some very ingenious patrons packed as many as could fit in the trunk. As soon as the vehicle “passed inspection” and got past the ticket taker, the automobile moved into the parking area and “illegal” guests were let out of the trunk to enjoy “free” movies.
Boudette explained that all the ushers had to do was to check the level of the car. Cars that held extra passengers in their trunks were tipped to the rear, almost dragging the tailpipe on the street. A few kids just could not figure that out when they were refused admittance.
Norman and Gail Peach often took their three young children with them for a much-needed night out. In those days babysitters were not available – either you did not have the extra funds or you could not find anyone willing to take all three kids at one time – even immediate family members!
Eddie Murray remembers the delicious, greasy egg rolls available at the refreshment stand; this was at the time before any of us knew about fat grams. One could even purchase a mosquito coil to be lit and then placed on the dashboard to keep the bugs away during the show.
Harry Cakounes was the real celebrity back in the 60s. Because of his “family connections,” he was given a yearly pass to attend all movies throughout the year. Naturally, Harry was extremely popular come the weekends, no friends in his trunk! Harry still has the last pass he was given before the drive-in closed in 1974, and it is one of his dearest treasures. He also saved a collection of programs given out weekly starting from the first year in 1939.
The very popular Saugus Drive-In survived throughout the war years by selling war bonds on the side and practicing the dim-outs. Special reduced rates were given to soldiers coming home from the war and those who were supporting the war effort. Unfortunately, competition became keen when the Revere Drive-In opened on the present site of the cinema in Revere, followed by the Lynn Drive-In where Building 19 7/8 was once located. Despite the fog always rolling in around 9 p.m. at the Lynn Drive-In, the newer theaters offered brand-new high-tech stuff, enticing customers from the Saugus operation to their locations.
Today a Democrat is still in the White House, and we are at peace, but the screen, the speakers and the refreshment stand are all gone, taking with them, all the mementos and memories of a happier time in our lives growing up in Saugus, Mass.
Editor’s Note: Janice K. Jarosz, a Saugus native and 1961 graduate of Saugus High School, is a longtime local writer and frequent contributor to The Saugus Advocate.