Dallas’ Dirtiest Drive-In: The Lone Star
Once upon a time, Dallas had 19 drive-in movie theaters scattered throughout the city. This is the story of the one that created traffic jams on the freeway, ignited court battles, and quite likely was the ground zero of conception for many.
November 3rd, 1951 was opening night at the Lone Star Drive-In, which would become a thriving business that lasted 37 years, the longest of any outdoor movie theater in the city’s history. The film which premiered that night was Broken Arrow, a western starring Jimmy Stewart. Reportedly, the grand opening was accompanied by the explosion of fireworks.
Oh, if irony could foretell of the surreptitious sleaze to come.
Camped in a swampy industrial section of East Dallas engulfed in oak trees on Military Parkway, the Lone Star Drive-In was just another family-friendly hangout for a decade and a half,. But then the owners cooked up a wacky way to increase profits by carving out a niche customer base that was certain to be controversial, even scandalous, but would also attract even more cars and customers — if only they could get away with it.
Their new business model was to start showing smut.
In 1966, the happy families loaded into station wagons must have slammed on the breaks in full panic mode when they pulled into the Lone Star Drive-In and been shocked to discover it was now showing X-rated movies. Quick daddy, hit the reverse! I’m not sure exactly what an X-rated movie looked like in 1966 since the MPA rating system wasn’t instituted until two years later, in 1968. I presume those early films must have been hysterically awful and even tame by today’s tawdry standards. But back then, with strict decency codes the norm in most American cities, it’s almost unimaginable that Dallas had an open-air, outdoor movie venue that featured hard-core pornography, what were then called “skin flicks.”
Welcome to the Lone Star Drive-In!
Note from the banner ad, that when the theater first opened, they advertised a “playground for the children.”
Presumably, that attraction later hit the skids once the porn began to flow.
Dallas has no natural reason to be a hub for drive-ins.
Except for lots of cars. Hot summer nights. And nothing much else to do.
Okay, so maybe Dallas — at least back then — was the ideal town for drive-in movies.
History doesn’t lie on this question. Years later, well into the 1980s, Dallas featured the only nationally-syndicated drive-in movie critic. Joe Bob Briggs (real name — John Bloom) wrote a hysterical weekly column, movie reviews actually, of the worst films ever made. They were published in the Weekend section of the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald, which also spawned the careers of many — including sportswriter Dan Jenkins, PBS’ Jim Lehrer, the late politically brilliant Molly Ivins and Skip Bayless, the motormouth on ESPN. Briggs himself became semi-famous for playing the role of the incompetent hick slot manager who was fired in Martin Scorsese’s film, Casino.
However, for all his ambition and talent, Briggs never once reviewed any of the movies playing at the Lone Star Drive-In between 1966 and 1987, not even Debbie Does Dallas. That’s when the giant screen finally went dark….after one last money shot.
The most unusual thing about the Lone Star Drive-In was its location, adjacent to a busy expressway that was named after a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. [Note 1]
You can look it up.
Movies couldn’t be shown until after dark. But when skin flicks hit the screen nightly between 8 pm and midnight, graphic sex scenes were easily visible from the road. Envision driving down the expressway one moment, and then the next — penises the size of Chevrolets. And the acting skills of a jackhammer.
Many rubbernecking witnesses recall “traffic jams” building up along the expressway, particularly during the winter months when the surrounding trees shed their leaves and made for a dangerous driving distraction. Others who remember the Lone Star Drive-In said accidents were common along the section of the roadway where voyeurs could capture a quick peek behind the wheel of the car. Truckers sometimes parked on the median, feigning a “flat tire.”
The stretch of road on the other side of the drive-in complex, known as Lawnview, reportedly had “much clearer views.” It also wasn’t subject to the dangers of distracted drivers barrelling down the expressway going 70 mph. There, on a dark and quiet city street, dedicated aficionados of the cinema arts unwilling to pay the cover charge could watch the screen, though without the sound. The Dallas Police regularly patrolled the area, frequently running off lots of teenagers and cheapskates.
The owners operated several drive-in theaters across Texas, but their decision to show X-rated movies in the middle of Dallas got to be way too much for local authorities to ignore. That’s when the legal battles began.
Somehow, reasons unknown, land exemptions had been grandfathered in. The Lone Star Drive-In’s owners escaped the normal zoning restrictions for decades, to say nothing of the mystery of how they managed to evade local laws on decency. Bribes? How much profit could a porno movie earn to be used to bribe cops and politicians? Who knows?
One story goes that they were able to avoid the deadly classification as an “adult-oriented business” by occasionally running mainstream movies, those rated G and PG, suitable for the whole family. Hence, on some nights the neon marquis in front might advertise a showing of 101 Dalmations, and the next night promote the feature attraction — Sorority Sluts. No word on how they avoided confusion when Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs was shown. Presumably, moviegoers didn’t know if they’d be watching a kiddie cartoon or a gangbang.
I remember the Lone Star Drive-In. Very well. I even went there a few times.
The legal age for entry was 17 and during high school, it was just another rite of passage to the eventual boredom of adulthood. Just like the first time you saw the centerfold in Playboy or kissed a girl. Once a group of us guys went together, which was way far more awkward than it was exciting. Another time, I went on a double date. Some helpful advice: Don’t ever take a girl to an X-rated drive-in movie on a first date.
Whatever the cover charge was ($5 for a carload, I think — no matter if it was 1 person or a dozen), you got to watch three sleazy movies. What a joy! They also had those giant metal speakers attached to an industrial cable that would be hung inside the car window, which was always screechy. I don’t recall much about the concession stand, other than the hot buttered popcorn was certainly something not to be touched.
According to a few drive-in nostalgia sites, the Lone Star Drive-In finally closed down with utterly no fanfare. This time, there were no fireworks. No porno parage. No gooey goodbyes. It wasn’t the Internet and free porn that killed all the big-screen fun. It wasn’t free porn. Rather, it was a new city law and an updated ordinance. The owner’s exemption to restrictions on adult businesses ran out, and the movie went dark on December 18, 1987. One week before Christmas Day.
Ho, ho, ho.
Sometime later, many months or it might have been a few years, with weeds sprouting in the parking lot and the white-plastered screen dingy with dirt and faded by the searing Texas heat, the drive-in suffered a sad and mysterious end. The television news later reported the abandoned drive-in, including the giant screen, had somehow caught on fire. Never mind how suspicious it sounds that a vacant property matted in gravel and surrounded by sheet metal miraculously burst into flames. The punch lines to the story wrote themselves: Wow, the X-rated drive-in caught on fire! That must have been one hot movie!
I guess, looking back now many years later, the Lone Star Drive-In was equal parts of quirky reminiscence and shameful disgust. All the drive-ins are gone now, perishable by evolution, erased by time.
Note 1: That busy freeway is named after R.L Thorton, a former Dallas Mayor and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Many Dallas residents are trying to change the name of the freeway.
Photo 1 Credit: http://cinematreasures.org
Photo 2 Credit: http://photos.cinematreasures.org
Photo 3 Credit: Derek Maxwell
Photo 4 Credit: DFW History Alive