Originally created 04/27/01

Big Mo keeps tradition alive



In an era when old drive-ins don't die but frequently become scrap yards or flea markets, the Big Mo drive-in in Monetta, S.C., is something of an oddity.

Unlike many of its brethren, Big Mo, 50 years and a day after opening its gates, is still showing movies.

Big Mo opened on April 26, 1951, with a showing of Nancy Goes to Rio, starring Jane Powell and Ann Sothern and featuring one of the final screen appearances of Carmen Miranda.

Owners Lisa and Richard Boaz will celebrate the drive-in's 50th birthday with double-feature screenings tonight through Sunday of Grease and the Elvis vehicle Blue Hawaii.

"I was a history major in college, something that's both a curse and a blessing," Mr. Boaz said. "So, to me, the 50th birthday, the idea that something that was conceived so long ago would still exist today is an amazing thing. It's certainly something we're not going to see again, so I thought it would be fun to celebrate."

The Big Mo did spend some of its 50 years unused and all but forgotten. During the late 1970s and early '80s, the bulk of Big Mo's box office receipts came from adult features. When the video revolution put those films in living rooms, the drive-in found itself without cash flow, and it remained closed from 1986 until 1999, when the Boazes bought it and reopened it.

Along with the retro-themed film offerings, Big Mo also will play host to a classic car cruise-in, with trophies and dash plaques for participants. Mr. Boaz said that he expects about 250 old cars throughout the weekend. On Saturday, he also plans on having a birthday cake, Hula Hoop and trivia contests, music from the 1950s and '60s and perhaps some 50-cent concession-stand specials.

Mr. Boaz said that the idea of the drive-in is worth celebrating as much as the continued existence of the structure. And although some of the standard drive-in icons have disappeared, the essence of going to a drive-in remains.

"It's true, you don't have the speaker posts anymore," he said. "They've been replaced by FM stereo, and now the film is projected with a 3,000-watt xenon bulb. But the essence of this place is the same. This is about watching movies outside."

Although there has been something of a drive-in renaissance in the past several years, many still consider pull-up-and-park moviegoing a losing proposition. Mr. Boaz, despite what naysayers might feel, said Big Mo still has a lot of life left in it. And not just because it's the only movie theater within 25 miles or because, at $9 a carload, a night at Big Mo is a lot of bang for the entertainment buck. Rather, it's because of the sentimental attachments people have for the drive-in experience.

"We have people come and tell us about coming to this drive-in, or others, in their little footie pajamas," Mr. Boaz said. "Or they talk about their first date at the drive-in, or parents that brought their kids. We get e-mail every week, not just asking what we're showing but expressing their thanks. That's why we do this. It's a chance for us to make an impact, to make people feel good and perhaps give them some of those memories."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626.

On screen

What: The Big Mo 50th birthday celebration, featuring Grease and Blue Hawaii

When: Gates open at 7 tonight and Sunday night and 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Big Mo Drive In, U.S. Highway 1, Monetta, S.C.

Admission: $9 per car

Phone: (803) 685-7949