Digital Media Editor

Justin Channell has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2012, first working as a night news editor and later as the digital media editor. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University. He has also produced and directed independent films.

Drive-In Time Machine Logo

We recently passed the 60th anniversary of the opening of the second screen at Mt. Lebanon Drive-In. Despite its name, the drive-in was actually located in Canonsburg at the spot currently occupied by Northway's Golf Oasis.

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Mt Lebanon drive-in

In an announcement ad ran in the Observer-Reporter on Friday, June 20, the owners boasted that it was the first curved screen in the area "fully constructed of steel and set in 75 cubic yards of conrete (sic)."

The first films to debut on the second screen were "Desire Under the Elms" starring Sophia Loren and Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins, with "The Virginian" as the second feature. 

The ad also mentions all of the contractors who made Mt. Lebanon "one of the most modern drive-in theaters in the tri-state area." The only contractors that weren't based in Washington or Allegheny counties were Berlo Vending Co. of Philadelphia, who provided the concession stand equipment, and Shelby Industries of Akron, Ohio, for the screen itself.

On the other side of Washington County in 1958, Sunset Drive-In was playing a Disney movie that hasn't been seen publicly in the U.S. since 1986: "Song of the South."

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Song of the South ad

Based on the Uncle Remus stories and taking place during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era after the abolishment of slavery, Disney already feared backlash when "Song of the South" was produced. Racial tensions in the country were still high enough that the film's African American star, James Basket, was unable to attend the premiere in Atlanta because it was a racially segregated city at the time

Upon its original release in 1946, NAACP members noted that it "contained all the clichés in the book," but was also "artistically beautiful." It was also re-released multiple times - in fact, this screening was a re-release.

Decades later, Disney changed their tune on the racial content of the film and withheld further distribution of "Song of the South" after its 40th anniversary in 1986. It has never been released in the U.S. on home video, though the segment of the film with the song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" has appeared on television and home video compilations. A Laserdisc was released in Japan in the 1980s and fetched high prices from collectors.

While Disney still has not relented on keeping "Song of the South" in the vault, a DVD copies sourced from that Japanese Laserdisc are a mainstay of bootleggers. Also, the film's legacy lives on at Disney World, as it was the inspiration for the long-running water ride Splash Mountain.

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1973 ads

Moving forward a bit to 1973, Mt. Lebanon was playing the colorfully titled kung-fu feature "Deep Thrust - The Hand of Death." The film, which features a female kung-fu fighter seeking revenge on a man who abandoned her pregnant sister and led to her suicide, was given the "Deep Thrust" moniker by its U.S. distributor in an effort to capitalize on the famous pornographic film "Deep Throat." It's most popular U.S. title is "Lady Whirlwind."

The second feature on the double bill was "Slaughter Hotel," a retitling of the Italian horror movie "Cold Blooded Beast" starring the notoriously brilliant and difficult actor Klaus Kinski.

On the second screen at Mt. Lebanon, an X-rated double-feature of "Swingin' Models" and "Swingin' Pussycats" was playing. It's funny to think that just 15 years, what was the largest curved drive-in screen in the tri-state area in 1958 was running adult movies.

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Battle for the Planet of the Apes ad

But at Route 19 Drive-In in 1973, you could catch a triple feature with "Battle for the Planet of the Apes," the final chapter of the original "Apes" series, along with two British Hammer horror films: "Countess Dracula" and "Vampire Circus."

That wraps it up for this week's look back at area drive-ins. Next week, we'll take a look at an Academy Award-winning classic, a low-budget horror classic and two Burt Reynolds vehicles!

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