Monday, June 1

Grand Vue Drive-In

Remember those sultry, summer days when you were a kid and you would rush in the evenings to get a bath and scrubbed up to go to the drive-in movie? You really didn’t care what feature was showing: you had only visions of the pop corn, soft drinks, snow cones and the playground with the slides, swings, merry-go-round and that ferris wheel that looked so gigantic.

Then you got a little older and the drive-in became the location for the dating game. You still went a little early; not to go to the playground, but to be assured of a parking spot on the back row. You still didn’t care about the movie.

Where people parked in a drive-in movie divulged quite a bit about their ages. Married folks with children usually parked on or near the front or “cowboy row", so they could watch the kids at the playground. Elderly people also parked in this area so they could see better. Married couples with or without children parked around the concession stand because it was closer to the food and the bathrooms and they were now interested in the film. Teenagers flocked to the rear section and welcomed the fog that settled during the evening.

Most us here in east Kentucky are very familiar with all this because the drive-in movie was the only form of summer entertainment for so many years.

The Grand Vue Drive In Theater opened on October 22, 1949, under the management of J. C. Amusement Company, a partnership of Gene Combs and Dick Johnson. This was before television found its way to eastern Kentucky.

“Blue Lagoon," a 1st run Technicolor movie starring Jene Simmons, was the first feature shown at the Grand Vue, which was located on the Combs Road in the Airport Gardens section of Perry County. The price of admission was 49 cents for adults, children were admitted free, and the lot held a capacity of 300 autos. At that time, there were only a few residents in the area, no hospital, schools, or businesses. The Grand Vue was the first of its kind in the Hazard area.

The 1957 flood, which got two feet over the top of the concession stand at the Grand Vue, brought about a lot of changes. The screen was enlarged for Cinemascope to 60 x 80 feet, to make it the largest in eastern Kentucky. Also, the sound system was converted to stereo and the lot was enlarged to handle 500 vehicles.

When the screen was first erected, the J.C. Amusement Company received a bit of static from the federal Aeronautics Association in Washington. The screen supposedly interfered with the flight traffic pattern of the nearby airport. The Grand Vue owners were told to tear down the screen. In arguing that the screen offered no obstruction, Dick Johnson told the Federal folks, “If they (the pilots) fly into it and that doesn’t kill them, we will.” The controversy soon died down and business went on as usual.

In 1957 - Kenneth Zimmerman took over as manager and maintained the position until his retirement in the spring of 1975. His wife, Goldie, put in her share of the work wherever needed. In the earlier years, this job was handled by co-owner Gene Combs, Ken’s brother-in-law, and, the concession stand was operated by Gene’s wife, Katie.

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