Remco Movieland – a surprisingly good toy?

Front view of the Remco Movieland toy drive-in theaterA few years ago, I wrote about the Remco Movieland, a 1959 drive-in toy that didn’t look that much like the opening sequence of its TV advertisement. What I didn’t notice then was that Scott Santoro at the Retro Rockets blog had one of them to show off. According to the Santoro, the Movieland is not so bad. “I loved it anyway,” he wrote. “To me, it wasn’t just a toy, it was an experience.”

Santoro included a reference from my youth, the Give-A-Show Projector (profiled at Retroland), which had cardboard strips of six slides per story. He didn’t say how many images were in each Movieland feature, but “there were enough panels to convey the bare essentials of a story including a beginning, a middle and an end.” There’s a lot more information about exactly how the Movieland worked, with many helpful photos, so you really should go read it!

Screen shot from Remco Movieland TV ad

Looking at that ad again, I took a screen shot from the beginning and noticed more than I had when it flashed by in less than four seconds. For example, it really is the Remco toy at the top of the hill, and there’s a diagonal ramp up to the entrance and exit. But what’s that in front at the bottom of the hill, where the cars are parked? Is it a small strip mall with really shallow stores? Is it a farmer’s market with colorful posters? But I digress.

It turns out that there were enough Movieland toys sold that there’s usually one available on eBay. At this writing, pristine editions can run several hundred dollars, but the beat-up, pieces-missing result of a normal childhood is typically under a hundred, depending on condition. So if you really want one of your own, now you know where to buy it.

Would you pay for this drive-in upgrade?

Jay and Bella Emanuel

For all the times I’ve written about Jay Emanuel Publications, I’d never seen a photo of the man till I found this one. His wife Bella’s got a great smile, don’t you think? (Courtesy of Used by permission.)

I’ve been reading through a few old issues of Motion Picture Exhibitor. That’s a weekly magazine put out by Jay Emanuel Publications, which also published the annual Theatre Catalog. The Jan. 18, 1967 issue includes an article about an interesting new product. Allow me to transcribe:

ST. PAUL, MINN. – Drive-in movie theatres are being invited to “net increased profits” by reserving premium-priced seats with a new control console that also plays a role in concession sales.

Hollywood Loge, Inc., distributor of the “Reserva-Seat” console, which replaces a conventional speaker stand, says the console justifies higher admission charges – a 25 cent premium is suggested – and should boost concession sales during the movie. The console includes back-to-back hi-fi speakers, an integral two-way intercom to the concession stand for carhop service, and a softly lit menu display board.

Reserva-Seat consoles are limited to the best 10 per cent locations in a drive-in, generally those near the concession stand. The locations should be chosen to give patrons privacy and prestige, the company said.

“The key to increased profits,” the company explained, “is a special Reserva-Seat key that is rented to the patron at the boxoffice and entitles him to a reserved drive-in parking space. Each key is coded to a specific console. At the console the patron uses the key to turn on the hi-fi speaker. Once the key is turned it cannot be removed except by a master key; this prevents pilferage, duplication or unauthorized use.”

Touching a special Honeywell pushbutton signals the concession stand; then the order is phoned in over the speaker. Other Honeywell switches tie in the movie sound track when the key is turned, as well as turning on an “in use” light. The console also has a non-reset counter showing how many times the reserved seat has been rented. (End of article)

I’m sad to say that the article had no illustrations, but that console sounds a lot like what you’d find at a Sonic drive-in restaurant, plus keys. According to NATO (the Theatre Owners, not the Treaty Organization), the average movie ticket in 1967 was $1.22, which would make that recommended surcharge about 20 percent. Would you pay an extra $2 today for a primo reserved parking slot with carhop service? I might have tried it, but I never got the chance.

Suffice it to say, you don’t see Reserva-Seat keys anywhere, and I doubt that the idea caught on. A quick search of the trademark office turned up nothing on Reserva-Seat, alive or dead. The Minnesota Secretary of State says that Hollywood Loge, incorporated six months before this article, dissolved in 1991. Rest in peace.

Small clues lead to another new drive-in

Let’s put the most important news up front. In Kings Mountain NC, a local family reacted to the closing of the area’s only drive-in theater by starting its own. Hound’s Drive-In opened this year, and it’s an inspiring story of another business that’s keeping this tradition alive.

The Shelby Star ran an article in April anticipating the launch of Hound’s, complete with a bit of video showing what a brand-new drive-in theater looks like. Then in July, the newspaper printed the story of a guy who proposed marriage on the big screen there. It’s all good stuff, and you ought to read both of those articles.

Now I have to tell a story about Carload. Both of those Shelby Star articles ran before I began assembling the Carload database of active drive-ins in the US and Canada. For that task, I used three primary sources: a two-year-old list from, the sadly out-of-date, and Google. Lots of Google. Search results for “(insert state) drive-in theater” were the most reliable listings, but they weren’t perfect.

Another great source for drive-in listings has been a by-product of keeping track of drive-in theater news. When a new one opens, that’s usually worthy of a newspaper article or a local TV news report. And once in a while, something in the news just mentions a drive-in I hadn’t heard of.

Which brings us to the Kings Mountain Herald. In a dusty dry article last week, the Herald listed the local construction permits issued in September. (By the way, that’s truly a core journalistic service to its readers. More papers should do the same.) Buried in that list / article was the mention that a construction company was issued “a building master commercial permit to install bathrooms for the drive-in theater at 114 Raven Circle”. That tiny note led to more searching and the discovery of the brand-new Hound’s, built adjacent to the owner’s campground. And it also implies that, if the owner is building more or better bathrooms, the drive-in must be doing pretty well.

The discovery reminded me of the early, pre-Google days of Carload, when the Comanche of Buena Vista CO wasn’t listed by anybody online. A co-worker who had family in Buena Vista said that on a weekend visit home, he saw cars filing out of the Comanche late at night. The result was a quick visit and the 19-year-old marquee photo that Carload still uses. There may be more active drive-ins that still aren’t on the Carload list. If you know of any, please let me know.