May 12, 2024

There's No Place Like Home

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory / The Wizard of Oz
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
It has been a long winter, but we're back at our home away from home.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

The season was originally scheduled to start on the weekend of April 26th and 27th, but it was postponed due to the passing of owner and master projectionist Jeff Mattox.  Jeff was an incredible dude who kept this place going as a vintage 35mm drive-in at a time when practically everyone said he was crazy for doing so.  He worked to turn it into what it has become; a mecca for movie lovers, and a place where we can all get together, make friends, enjoy a bite to eat, and relive old favorites (and discover new old favorites) on the big screen under the stars.  He also brought together a team of awesome folks who are dedicated to keeping the Mahoning Drive-In Theater going in his memory.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

This weekend, and every show that follows, has been dedicated to Jeff's memory.  He was the man behind the curtain, but you didn't need a little dog to pull back the curtain at the Mahoning.  He would welcome you into the projection booth and show you how everything worked, and he loved chatting about movies and music with anyone who wanted to pop in and say hello.  His spirit is going to live on in this place for as long as people gather here, which I expect to be a very, very long time.

There was a table set up in the concession building in honor of Jeff.  It included photos, personal mementos, and things that he especially enjoyed.  Included in the display was the Lifetime Achievement Award ("the Hubbie") that was given to Jeff by Joe Bob Briggs at the 2021 Drive-In Jamboree.

There was also a special item at the concession stand dedicated to Jeff.  His favorite specialty food that the Mahoning served up were meatballs marinated in a pineapple barbecue sauce.  You could get either meat or meatless ones in a bowl with a Wizard Of Oz pick.  They were very tasty!

The concession building was decorated for the traditional Opening Weekend double feature of The Wizard Of Oz and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, including a massive balloon statue of Willy Wonka, and a very cool Willy Wonka poster from Opening Weekend 2017.

The merch table had a lot of very cool things available, including this pin from Geek Boy Press that celebrates the start of the 75th year of movies under the stars at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.

Front                                                                              Back

Another cool item to celebrate the Mahoning's 75th year were these 3/4 sleeve baseball shirts.  They were designed by the main drive-in poster artist Tom Bifulco.  There were two versions: grey with black sleeves, and the one that I picked up which was black with red sleeves.

Front                                                                            Back

The other shirt that I picked up was a red and orange tie-dye to commemorate Opening Weekend 2024.  This was designed by illustrator Paige J. Beil (@unearthlymoss).

October 29, 2022
May 11, 2024

Jeff liked to play 35mm reels of vintage cartoons before and between features at the Mahoning.  They aren't played every night, but they're always a welcome surprise when they hit the screen.

Although 35mm film can last for a very long time under proper storage conditions, it doesn't last forever.  Eventually, the film will break down and suffer what is known as vinegar syndrome, so named for the vinegar scent that films give off when this happens.  When it begins, the breakdown is irreversible.  The print is on borrowed time before it becomes too brittle or crystalized to run through a projector.

One of the cartoons that we saw at the Mahoning a few times over the past three years was a 1956 Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies short called Wideo Wabbit.  It was screened for the last time this past season, and it became clear to the team that the film had degraded to the point where it wasn't going to be playable again.  Normally a print is just thrown away when this happens, but Rob decided to save this one, and he and fellow projectionist Krista cut it up into strips to give away to folks on the lot as a souvenir.  They also cut a one second long strip of the film to hang in the projection booth so that when people visit, they have a visual aid to learn exactly how much film it takes to show a single second of film on the screen.  It's touches like this that make the Mahoning Drive-In Theater truly special.  It's a living museum where everyone is welcome to not only enjoy great films, but to learn about every aspect of motion pictures from men and women whose passion for what they do is second to none.

There were a few cartoon shorts played on Saturday night.  The first one, which played before the first film of the night, was a Mickey Mouse short from 1935 called The Band Concert.  It's notable for not only being the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to be produced in color, but for its role reversal in which Donald Duck plays the laid back, fun loving character to a frustrated and angry Mickey.

Friday night's double feature began with The Wizard Of Oz and ended with Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, but the Saturday night show that we were in attendance for showed the two films the other way around.  It's not the first time that we've watched these two films at the Mahoning, but it's always nice to get together with our friends after a long winter to take in two of the classics.

There were two different Bugs Bunny cartoons shown from original 35mm prints during intermission.  The first was a short from 1948 called Hot Cross Bunny, and the second was from 1949 (the year that the Mahoning Drive-In Theater opened) called Rebel Rabbit.

Last, but not least, we were treated to a screening of what is probably the most well-known movie of all time, The Wizard Of Oz.  It was released in 1939, and it's still every bit as entertaining and beautiful on the big screen as it was when audiences first watched it 84 years ago.

And that's a wrap on Opening Weekend 2024, but it's just the start of the 75th consecutive year in operation of a little slice of heaven in a small town in Pennsylvania.  We've got a lot of good stuff to look forward to this year!