Milwaukee-based Charles Bruss has been working on a book about the histories of Wisconsin drive-in theaters. He says..."I have put up a Web site back in 2003 about my book project; I thought it would be great to share the old vintage original drive-in ads that I have collected with everyone. It turns out that my original drive-in ads are a more popular part of my site." So we talked about them in the following interview:
ephemera: How did you become interested in drive-in ads?
Bruss: I started my book project on the histories of Wisconsin drive-in theater back in 1999. I have always liked how the old drive-in newspaper ads looked with the vintage artwork and graphics. The types of movies shown back then and especially the types of promotions drive-ins would run to get you to come to their theaters was very interesting too. Pony rides, train rides, children's playgrounds, dusk-to-dawn shows, etc. But at the time, most of my newspaper ads came from microfilm at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, WI. These of course were mainly used for my research purposes. And microfilm copies where almost always to dark, had scratch lines in them from damaged film, and overall, just not very attractive to view.
But back in 2001, I was at an antique mall in Superior, WI, and found an old stack of Wisconsin newspapers. Some of the papers came from towns that had drive-ins. I looked through them, and came across some original drive-in ads for the theaters. It's like a moment frozen in time when looking at those ads. You can just imagine the people that showed up to watch that particular set of movies. What were they wearing? what did they eat that night? I noticed how nice and clean the drive-in ads looked straight from the newspaper and not microfilm! From that point on, I looked for only drive-in ads from newspapers.
ephemera: It seems you overcame the main obstacle in collecting these ads. Are there other challenges?
Bruss: The only thing as far as obstacles go are when going to antique malls, once you've been there you have to wait several months before going back so that dealers will have time to rotate in more antiques. But I found an answer to that problem! Find out which dealers have what your looking for in paper collecting, newspapers, and the like and get to know them. Make friends with the dealers and let them know what exactly your looking for. I have done this with several dealers around the state. You would be surprised at what these dealers will come across.
ephemera: Yeah, they unearth some amazing things. That's great advice for any type of ephemera collector. What are your favorite items in your collection?
Bruss: My favorite newspaper items are any grand opening ads as they were the first to announce a theaters opening. And a lot of the older ads for the vintage artwork showing perhaps old cars, drive-in screens and children's playgrounds.
ephemera: What’s your advice for achieving success as a collector?
Bruss: My advice for achieving success is to be persistent. Always keep an eye out for estate sales listed in the paper and rummage sales too. Antique shops are a great source for any kind of paper collecting. Be willing to travel for what you want. The reward for persistence can be great!
ephemera: Spoken like a true ephemera hunter. What resources and tools do you recommend?
Bruss: Your local newspaper is a great source for finding estates sales or place your own ad and let people know what your looking for and what you are willing to pay for. The same can be had for Craigslist or other free online ad sites. The Internet can be the ultimate resource! In my office at home, I have several of my newspaper ads and other drive-in memorabilia displayed in picture frames done by a local frame shop in town here. They do a great job, and bring out the beauty of whatever I am putting on display!
ephemera: These drive-in ads bring back a lot of great memories for me. We hung out at the Drive-In on many hot summer nights in Chicago. Thanks for sharing your collection with my readers, Charles.