A Nickel’s Worth of Grub at the Automat

We are fascinated by Automats, those self-serve restaurants that asked diners to drop nickels in slots in order to raise one of dozens of small glass doors to access a serving a meatloaf or apple pie.

Horn and Hardart opened the United States’ first Automat in Philadelphia in 1902, but they are mostly closely associated with New York City, where they thrived for decades before dying off in the 1980s and early ’90s. There were only a handful remaining when we arrived in the Big Apple in 1982, and we just made it to the last one before it closed in 1991.

But the Automat lives on in old (and not-so-old) movies, and we’ve devoted a playlist on the Cladrite Radio Youtube channel to scenes depicting these grand old eateries.

The most recent addition, from a 1925 silent called The Early Bird, can be viewed below, but if you wish to see full playlist of a dozen clips (and you do, take it from us), just follow this link. You’ll enjoy scenes featuring Joan Crawford, Ray Milland, Jean Arthur, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Debbie Reynolds, Sylvia Sidney, and many more.

Happy Birthday, Harpo Marx!

Today marks the 126th anniversary of the birth of the great Harpo Marx.

Born Adolph—he later changed his name to Arthur—Harpo was said by all who knew him to be the kindest and gentlest of men. When we first became fans of the Marx Brothers, it was Groucho to whom we were drawn, but over the years, the delightful film work of Harpo—and the very endearing stories of his life and career—have made Harpo a very close second favorite. If Groucho stills leads, it’s only by a nose.

Happy birthday, Harpo, wherever you may be!

Goodbye to Another Glorious Gal: Mona Freeman

We came across, as perhaps you did, too, a notice or two that actress Mona Freeman had passed away at the age of 87. Hers was a relatively modest career, though she had some well-known projects among her credits.

She starred in Black Beauty (1946), for example, and assayed smaller roles in The Heiress (1949) and Angel Face (1952), among many others, before moving on to a very active television career in the 1950s and ’60s.

After giving up acting, she devoted herself to painting, and not without success. Her portrait of Mary See, the mother of the founder of See’s Candy, a California-based company, can still be seen in many of the chain’s more than 200 shops across the country.

But what we didn’t know is that Freeman was, in 1941 and at the ripe old age of 14, named NYC’s very first Miss Subways (this despite the fact that she’d never ridden the subway at the time), which meant that her photograph appeared on a poster that was seen by millions of straphangers daily.

The Miss Subways program, undertaken to draw riders’ eyes to the advertisements that line the walls of commuter-filled cars, lasted until 1976. Approximately 200 young women were afforded the honor over that span.

But the very first of them was Mona Freeman, who died in her home in Beverly Hills on May 23.

Happy Hollingshead Day, 2014!

We don’t often repeat posts, but on this date every year, we make an exception:

It was 81 years ago tonight that the world’s first drive-in theatre opened in Camden, N.J. It was the brainchild of one Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. The first movie shown at the first drive-in? Wives Beware, starring Adolphe Menjou (Wives Beware was originally released some months before under the title Two White Arms).

Mr. Hollingshead’s theatre is long gone, we’re sad to report, but the second drive-in ever built—Shankweiler’s DI in Orefield, Penn.—is still going strong.

If you’re within an hour’s drive of an ozoner, you owe it to yourself to pack up the kids and take in a movie under the stars tonight. Not sure if there’s a drive-in near you? Drive-ins.com is the place to find out.

And just to whet your appetite, we’ll share these drive-in intermission clips with you, plus a television advertisement for a now-much-coveted Remco miniature drive-in toy from the 1950s (watch for a familiar face in the commercial).