Reynolds of Seymour sits in her van and watches the premiere
of “Ratatouille” at
the Owen Drive-in in Seymour. The outdoor theater has been operated
by the same family since 1950.
The sky fills
with the warm glow of orange and pink light as you pull up onto a
gravel drive and are met by an 87-year-old man reading the newspaper
and selling movie tickets. Through your open car window, you can
hear the laughter of children playing tag, and smell sweet, buttery
popcorn being popped. The sun finally dips below the horizon and
the movie starts. Although this sounds like something you might have
seen years ago, this scene still takes place every Friday through
Tuesday in the summer at Owen Drive-In in Seymour.
Located in Webster
County in southwest Missouri, the Owen Drive-In is one of 12 outdoor
movie theaters still open in Missouri today. At one time, there
were at least 118 drive-ins scattered throughout the Show-Me State.
The decline of the drive-in is attributed to the fact that cities
expanded and land prices skyrocketed. Despite the many closings,
the Owen Drive-In is open for business.
Harold Owen opened
the business in 1950 with help from his father, George Owen. The
Owen family has been in the theater business since 1908 when George
started his business with still pictures. In 1911, he sold a buggy
for $75 to finance his first movie theater. “I
can remember cranking the old silent projectors and that was way
back in the 1920s. Just always been in it my whole life,” Harold
|Harold Owen counts money in his brick box office building while
waiting for the next car.
In 1941, George
opened Owen Theater in Seymour’s town
square. Today Harold carries on the tradition and operates both
the Owen Theater and the Owen Drive-In. The theater is open in
the winter when the drive-in is closed. The drive-in is on the
outskirts of the town of 2,000 and was designed as a drive-in
and fly-in. Small planes could land on a runway adjacent to the theater
and the pilots could catch a movie. Aviation and movies have
been Harold’s love for most of his life.
The future of the
movie industry is uncertain due to new the practice of releasing
movies on DVD instead of film.
no telling what’s
going to happen,” says
Harold. He says if he can still get the film, the drive-in
will remain open. But if he’s forced to switch technology
the cost may be too much. “You can’t spend that kind
of money in Seymour,” says
Harold. Despite an unknown future, Harold keeps the business
alive with help from his daughter, Betty Graf, and grandson, Kevin
Wright. Betty cooks and is in charge of the concession stand.
|Harold Owen stands
in the projection room and reads the movie synopsis of “Ratatouille.”
Kevin can help, he runs the projector.
During a regular
summer night, Betty arrives about 5:30 p.m. Harold is already in
his booth waiting for cars to pull up the gravel drive. Betty makes
most everything you’ll see and smell behind the concession
burger with everything on it — is her specialty.
She patties her own meat, cooks and puts just about
everything between the hamburger buns.
people from all over,” Betty says. “The
best thing about the drive-in is the customers. They
make it fun. They’re
good, loyal people.”
8, Mia Maxfield, 10, and Mia’s mother, Georgette
Reynolds of Seymour, came to opening night of “Ratatouille.” They
usually come every week to see the show. “You
the prices. It’s good family fun,” Georgette
they go out of business, I don’t know what
are even good!” adds Mia.
love the fact that they can be outside. “What
I like about the drive-in is that you can play
and see friends. And there’s usually more light out so you
can visit with friends, too,” say 12-year-old Leroy Glenn
Jr. of Fordland.
The drive-in takes
parents back to when they didn’t have as many
worries. “It’s nostalgic like
the good old days,” said
Stormy Silkey of Rogersville.
|Hannah Wilson, 8, plays
a pick up game of baseball with her siblings before the movie
starts. Her family’s car was the first one
in the lot that evening.
a good place of entertainment. You can
do things that you can’t do in theaters.
Bring the little kids out and play out
here before the show starts. It’s just a
good family thing more than anything,” comments
After being in
the movie business so long, Harold doesn’t have
a favorite flick. He hardly gets a chance
to watch the movies.
always something to do, you never get
a chance to sit down,” he says. “Too
much to do.” A couple
of hours before the show, Harold sells
tickets in the little brick building
in front of the screen. “Some
times people come at 5:30,” says
Owen. The show usually starts around
9 p.m., depending on the setting sun.
It takes hard work
to keep the drive-in in business. Harold goes to bed at midnight
or 1 a.m. (depending on the length of the
show), and wakes up at 5 a.m. “It makes a short night. All my life I’ve
been getting up early. You get so
much done in the morning,” he
mornings usually consist of picking up trash from
the previous night and, once a
week, mowing the lawn. “There’s
something all the time. Once in
a while, you’ll have trouble
with a film and you have to fix
that, you just never know. When you have
a storm, lights go off so the projector
goes off, too, so the film has
to be fixed,” explains Harold.
He says he doesn’t
mind the work. “Anything
to keep from sitting down. That
sitting down will kill you.”
|The popcorn is popped, the candy is on display and the food is
ready to be sold. The concession stand is ready for the hungry
opening night, and even though
the skies might open up at any
minute, cars are still lined up
in front of the white screen. The
Owen Drive-In shows movies rain
“People just put on their windshield wipers,” Owen says.
The business can be good or bad
depending on the weather. During stormy nights, the lot isn’t packed like
out lawn chairs, and umbrellas, they tune their car radios to 91.5
FM to listen to the previews. Nearly two hours have passed.
It’s now completely dark, and the only light is coming
from the stars and the departing
head and taillights. The only sounds are of cars starting and gravel crunching.
The scent of popcorn still hangs in the air.
The night is over
for Harold and Betty, and another day of
hard work will begin in a few
hours. “I’m going to keep doing it
as long as I can,” says
Owen Drive-In is located just south of Highway 60 and east of Highway
K. Movies start at about 9 p.m. and show Friday through Tuesday. The
drive-in is closed Wednesday and Thursday. For more information call