A Family Affair for Reel - Four Generations Keep Movies Supersized at Becky's Drive-In

Author: Paul Willistein

Source: East Penn Press, September 18th, 2003

In the movie, "Grease," John Travolta is stranded at a drive-in theater by his date, Olivia Newton-John.
(Hint: He was fresher than the popcorn.)
What's a guy to do alone at the drive-in?
If you're John Travolta and you're portraying Danny Zuko, you break into the song, "Stranded at the Drive-In." Against a background of popcorn boxes strutting on the big screen, Travolta sings his heart out.
It's one of the all-time, great drive-in movie scenes.
You may see Travolta at Northampton area's Becky's Drive-In Movie Theatre, albeit up on the silver screen. At the drive-in, the movies have been supersized for years.
They travel from near and far to Becky's, Route 248, Berlinsville, Lehigh Township, for that larger than life experience.
This summer, Cindy Beck Deppe, one of many family members who run the drive-in, reported a New York City taxi sighting. "It was funny seeing the taxi drive up to the ticket booth," she said.
The meter wasn't running. The cab driver had taken his family to Becky's.
Added Cindy, "I myself, am amazed that some people would travel that distance to view a double feature under the stars."
Becky's emphasizes mostly family fare. And that's who shows up: families with children and sometimes, dogs, (if on a leash) and, of course, couples, perhaps wanting to start families.
Trend-watchers see a drive-in movie renaissance. According to the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association, there are about 400 in the United States, down from a peak of about 4,000 in 1958. There are none in New Jersey, where Richard Hollingshead "invented" the drive-in movie near Camden in 1933. For the first time in years, one may open in Jersey.
Becky's is one of three operating in the greater Lehigh Valley, including America's oldest, Shankweiler's Drive-In Theatre, Ormrod, North Whitehall Township, and Mahoning Valley Drive-In, Route 443, west of Lehighton.
NBC's "Today Show" featured Shankweiler's on a recent piece about America's renewed love affair with drive-in theaters. While it's a labor of love for Paul and Sue Geissinger at Shankweiler's, it's a family affair at Becky's where four generations are involved.
Last February, Cindy and her husband, Dean, attended the annual United Drive-In Theatre Owner Association convention in Florida.
"I lucked out when I met Dean because he loves movies and took an interest in helping at the drive-in," said Cindy, whose father, William D. "Becky" Beck opened the drive-in more than 50 years ago. "He's always helping out some way or other. He wants to help out. That's what matters the most. I don't make him."

Dream Come True benefit
Becky's was voted "The Best of the Best" in showmanship by the Drive-In Theater Fan Club and was on a list of "10 Drive-Ins Worth A Detour" in The New York Times.
That's partly because they don't only show movies at Becky's.
The 16th annual Lehigh Township Benefit Festival & Car Show will be held from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday Oct. 5 (rain date Oct. 12) at Becky's for Dream Come True of the Lehigh Valley. The oldies band, The Mudflaps, will entertain. Donations will be taken. Host for the event is Blue Ridge Rod & Custom Car Club. To date, $126,839 has been raised for DCT.
Last year, Becky's employees, including some Northampton Area High School students who got course credit, received the organization's Dream Maker Award. Also, helping: Lehigh Township Lions and Lioness clubs, Lehigh Township Historical Society members and Holiday Hair Walnutport employees.
In July for the past two years, the Lehigh Township Fire Company held a car show at Becky's.
A few weeks ago, Becky's Drive-In treated 10 residents from the Good Shepherd Home to a movie and refreshments.
When PG and PG-13 movies are shown (Becky's does show R-rated movies), pony rides are offered on Fridays and Saturdays.
"I prefer all PG or PG-13-rated movies, but sometimes it doesn't work out and we must show R-rated movies," said Cindy. "To be able to show a first-run movie, theaters must keep the film at least two weeks."
The family even gets into the act. For the movie, "Spy Kids 3-D," employees wore 3-D glasses. For "Rugrats" and "Flintstones," they dressed like the characters in the films.
On the first Saturday in June, Becky's has fireworks for its "Hollingshead Celebration."
Now showing: Lightning bugs

Cindy Beck Deppe grew up at Becky's.
"The drive-in is where my siblings and I spent our summers. I remember when I was 10 or so, my cousin, Penny, and friend, Terry, would come to the drive-in on weekends.
"We wouldn't bother watching the movies. We were too busy trying to catch fireflies. We would put them in a paper cup with a lid and poke small holes in the lid to keep them alive."
The children of William and Alice Beck, including Darrell, Dennis, Mary Beck Mayberry and Cindy Beck Deppe, now own and operate Becky's. A son, Dale, died in 1997. William Beck died in 1987. His widow, Alice, who lives adjacent to the drive-in, still makes sure the premises are neat.
The family's involvement with the drive-in continues with grandchildren Sean Beck, Christopher and Nicholas Deppe and great grandchildren Michael and Mackenzey Marino.
Sean Beck, Cindy's sons, Christopher and Nicholas, and her husband, Dean, share projectionist duties. Michael and Mackenzey help in the refreshment stand.
Edgar Finley and his wife, Barbara, as well as Marc Hillenbrand, have worked at Becky's since the 1970s. Marc's wife, Colette, and daughters, Cara and Jena, also have worked there. Also helping out: Bernice Miller.
French fries the old-fashioned way

Becky's is open from April through September, every night Memorial Day-Labor Day, and weekends until Sept. 20. Capacity is 450 cars.
The screen is 50 by 80 ft. The sound system is FM stereo, on your car radio or boom box (some available to borrow at the projection booth). Patrons may bring a blanket or chair to watch the flicks and munch on popcorn al fresco.
At the snack bar: hamburgers, hot dogs, (available with chili sauce), pizza, french fries, popcorn (with butter), pierogies, nachos, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, soft pretzels, funnel cake, ice cream, candy and soda.
Until the early 1980s, Alice Beck made french fries the old-fashioned way: by hand. She spent all day peeling potatoes and slicing them for the evening show. She was very particular about her fries. No black eyes were allowed.
Some patrons would go to Becky's for the french fries and then leave.
The french fries are now from Johnson's Potato Farm in Orefield.
Mary, who lives in Lancaster, helps out when she can. Darrell, retired from Air Products, Inc., and Bethlehem Steel Corp., is very particular about the upkeep of the grounds. He, Edgar, Dean and Todd Latshaw mow the grass.
"The National Anthem" is played before the first feature. Tim Reed of Northampton did the "Through the Years at Becky's" movie trailer, a collage of old photos of the drive-in.
Said Cindy, "Our talking garbage can [movie trailer] is one of our patron's favorite. The can asks the patrons to throw their garbage in the can, not on the ground."
Menus, "ground rules" and litter bags are handed out to patrons when they arrive.

Movies on a sheet
William Beck began showing movies to neighborhood children on his parents' living room wall in the 1930s. His mom gave him a white sheet to use as a screen.
In 1936, he started showing movies outside Uncle Charlie's Lunch in Berlinsville. The patrons sat on benches. The movies were free. Beck made his money on concessions.
Next, he showed movies at locations around Lehigh Township, including now Bryfogle Memorial Park, where folks sat in their cars. Beck leased the land and called it the Route 45 Drive-In.
In 1946, he purchased the land where Becky's is located. Route 45 was renamed Route 248 in 1971.
William D. Beck would probably be amazed to see Becky's website, beckysdi.com, designed and maintained by grandson Nicholas, studying web design at Allentown Business School.
"He spends hours and hours changing and adding information to the site," said his mom, Cindy. "Nick used to sit in the projection booth with my husband, Dean, when he was small and he would watch his dad."
Indications are there's another "hands-on" projectionist in the family. Noted Cindy:
"My new nine-month-old grandson, Julian Deppe [William Beck's great-grandson], is even getting the hang of it. He sits in the projection room while his dad, Christopher Deppe, shows the movies.
"Julian likes to play with the film rewinder. He has a lot of toys, but seems to enjoy rewinding some film the best."
So, it looks like another generation is unreeling at Becky's.



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