Wednesday, October 21

60 Years Ago

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.

According to Gene Combs, who bought out his partner, Dick Johnson, in the mid-60’s, Hazard's Grand Vue was the first drive-in this part of the country to play first-run movies. One of the first major features was “Samson and Delilah.” Traffic was backed up for several miles in each direction – as far as the Colonial Club on one end and past Combs on the other end – with people waiting to get in to see this film.

Other popular movies included: “The Ten Commandments,” which ran for five days; Walt Disney’s “The Shaggy Dog,” and “Gone With The Wind,” which ran several different times over the years. In the early '70s “Walking Tall,” drew a huge crowd.

On one occasion, a nearby auto accident knocked out a power pole that affected only the sound system at the drive-in. However, this caused no alarm, nor refunds because the film happened to be a silent one, Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights.”

The Grand Vue offered the people a form of entertainment other than movies. Country music and western celebrities of the day came to Hazard to perform from the top of the concession stand. Among those bringing their stage shows to the Grand Vue were: Flatt & Scruggs, Johnny Mack Brown, Lash LaRue, Don Red Barry, the Carter Family, featuring June Carter Cash and Mother Maybelle, and the Carter Brothers. One Flatt & Scruggs show, which was taped by the NBC network drew 1,500 people. The Ink Spots, the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, Actor - Fuzzy Knight, Smiley Burnett and Tim Holt also made personal appearances.

The Grand Vue owners were also community minded. They offered their facilities to the Perry County Ministerial Association and the public for the purpose of Easter Sunrise Services for many years. The annual fireworks display was an event people looked forward to each 4th of July. Some will remember their "dusk to dawn" shows when the public was treated to five different movies. Then there was a period where the drive-in was used as a race track for go-carts on weekends, known as the Grand Vue Speedway.

Every Walt Disney film ever produced was shown "first run" at the Grand Vue. Surprisingly, Disney films were the most expensive to obtain. One in particular, “The Shaggy Dog,” proved to be the most expensive of all because the distributors forced theaters to charge 50 cents for children and required 50 per cent of the gate.

The end of an era came in 1977 when the Grand Vue Drive Theater ended its long run of nearly 30 years. The fence, marquee, concession stand, screen, playground and speakers were all dismantled to make way for progress. The Grand Vue Plaza Shopping Center would be built here.In recounting his memories of the Grand Vue’s performance, Gene Combs stated that they, the management, “enjoyed seeing so many people and made a lot of acquaintances and friends over the years.” They employed an average of ten people during each of the March 1 – November 1 seasons. The employee of the longest tenure was Mrs. Emily Emeurer, who was the concession stand cashier for over 20 years.When the Grand Vue opened in 1949, the price of admission was 49 cents. Rising costs and inflation forced them to to increase the price of admission to $2.00 by the 1970s. Children under 12 were still admitted free.The last movies ever shown at the Grand Vue Drive In were seen on March 13th 1977, a double billing – Clint Eastwood starring in “Hang ‘em High,” and Max Baer’s production of “Ode to Billy Joe.”

1 comment:

  1. The last movie I remember watching at the Grand Vue was Planet of the Apes...not sure what year that was.