Star Dusk drive-in theater was one of the tallest structures in the county

Echoes of our past
William & JoyWangemann • forThe Beacon

It has often been said that the era between the two world wars was the “Golden Age” of the movies. With such marvelous classics such as “Citizen Kane” “How Green Was My Valley” and “Lost Horizon”, just to mention a few who could argue with this statement.

During the “Great Depression” of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s the American movie industry developed into an art form that set the pattern for the rest of the world to follow.

During the darkest days of the depression some the happiest and most joyful movies were produced. It was also the days of the great movies palaces, all of which was intended to get peoples mind off their troubles, even if it was just for short period of time.

Here in Sheboygan the magnificent Sheboygan Theater was constructed. As a boy during this time I have fond memories of being escorted down the aisle by an uniformed usher carrying a flash light and being shown a seat. I felt like a king. How well I remember my father giving me a quarter, a sizeable sum in those days, on a Saturday afternoon for an excursion to the movies. With 25 cents in my pocket I could take a bus downtown for a nickel, spend 13 cents for the movie, take a bus back home and still have 2 cents left for penny candy.

Or if I wanted to walk each way, I could use the extra dime to buy fresh potato chips dripping in cooking oil, at the “Hi Hat Potato Chip Shop” on Michigan Ave. In the days before we all were too frightened and worried about cholesterol or eating too much salt we munched our way through a large bag of the crunchy, greasy, overly salted, still warm, and perfectly wonderful chips without the slightest trace of apprehension.

In my day here in Sheboygan we had the magnificent Sheboygan Theater, the Rex Theater, the strand, the State and the Wisconsin Theater. Near bye Sheboygan Falls had a Theater as well as Plymouth.

As the dark clouds of war rolled across Europe eventually drawing America into the whirlpool of war, the movie industry stepped forward with movies intended to foster patriotic passion in the movie goers.

Movies such as “Mrs. Miniver” (1942), “Wake Island” (1942) and “Back to Bataan” (1945) all were intended to do just one thing, stir up hatred toward our countries enemies, and they succeeded very well.

Double features were common place. Between films the newsreels and cartoons were shown to packed houses. The cartoons often tended to portray our enemies as stupid bumbling fools that were vanquished by the likes of Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny, much to the delight of all of us.

Here in Sheboygan in those pre- TV days newsreels were the only way we could view the horrors of war. I can remember vividly, watching the war unfold before my very eyes, some of the reels were only a few days old.

During the playing of the newsreels every eye in the darkened movie house was riveted on the huge silver screen.

But even in those dark days humor was not lost, comedians Abbot and Costello produced “In Society” in 1944 and played to sold-out theaters.

People need to laugh in a time when there was very little to laugh about. I can very well remember going to an Abbot and Costello movie at the Sheboygan Theater and finding a line that extended north on 8th Street to Niagara Ave, then around the corner, down Niagara Ave and then south on N.9th Street.

When the war years ended the movie industry shifted away from the war dramas. To some extent, people had had enough war.

The early 1950’s attendance at movies began to drop, all due to a small very expensive little flickering box called, Television!

Predictions were made that the end of the movie industry was close at hand. Here in Sheboygan ungainly looking weird contraptions, known as TV antennas seemed to sprout from almost every roof top over night, but the movies were far from dead, they were going to put up a fight.

“Why would people pay to see a movie when they could watch it on their home TV set for free they asked”. Today some 60 years after its predicted demise, the movie industry is bigger and better than ever!

In 1953 3-D Movies such as “The House of Wax”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) and in 1955 the forgettable “Revenge of the Creature” were shown in the much advertised 3-D format. Each patron, as he entered was given a set of special cardboard framed glasses to wear, which many people complained, gave them headachesand 3-D movies disappeared from theaters rather quickly.

But new an innovation was sweeping the country, the Drive-In Theater or as teen age slang of the day named them, “the passion pit” began to appear. n early 1949 it was announced that Sheboygan too was going to have a Drive-In Theater. On June 18, 1949 the Star Dusk Theater on Sheboygan’s far south side opened with “When my Baby Smiles at Me” staring none other than Betty Garble.

Admission was 60 Cents. Wednesday night was buck night, for the price of one dollar you could bring in as many people as you could stuff into your car. I have many warm memories of putting the kids into their pajamas, making a huge bag of popcorn and filling an ice chest with soft drinks for an inexpensive night at the movies.

The Star Dusk Theater was sold in February of 1985 and become a mobile home park.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s in the hay day of the drive-in movie craze over 4000 drive-in movie theaters operated in this country. Most of the theaters no longer use the speaker on the post method of delivering the sound track to patrons. The sound track is now broadcast over a low power FM or AM radio station and patrons can just adjust their car radios to the proper station.

Today’s Tidbit: The Screen at the Star Dusk Theater was just over 80’ high and 50’ wide, making it one of the tallest structures in Sheboygan County.

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