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Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Idea Of A Filmgoing Oasis

Imagine --- sitting on a camel, corn dog in hand, watching The Cape Canaveral Monsters --- is that not a glimpse of paradise? Picture an ostrich race during intermission between The Absent-Minded Professor and a Three Stooge comedy. In the sixties, there were drive-ins … and then there were DRIVE-INS. The Oasis just outside Chicago was among the latter. I can’t believe such a place existed, and but for photographic evidence shown here, I still wouldn’t. Built at a cost of $555,000 over a twenty-acre spread, The Oasis hosted 1,600 cars, along with seventy seats in each of two indoor theatres facing a 52 X 125-foot screen. The approach took you by desert tents and concrete camels with sheiks sat aboard. Sand dunes were painted on fences running hundreds of yards alongside the entrance road. This was suburban Chicago, one minute from Oak Grove, Illinois, and 22 minutes past the city’s loop. Folks must have thought they had cross hemispherical lines as The Oasis loomed nearer. Plastic palm trees dotted the landscape. Waterfalls spouted from what appeared to be desert wells. It was a work of engineering and showmanship genius, the brainchild of one Oscar Brotman, exhibitor turned attorney, then back again to his first love (he’d run four theatres before turning twenty-one). Oscar was forty-four when he opened the Oasis in 1961. I thought how neat it would be to track him down and get some dope on what it was like running the most exotic drive-in anywhere in these United States, but then it hit me --- the man would be over 100 today, if he were still among us.

Maria Montez might have ridden her Sahara caravan through these mosque-like portals, but observe several boxoffices therein for what must have been large ongoing  attendance. I’d have sat through four hours of Andy Pandas to be amidst such splendor. There were also elephant rides, for a quarter. Ostriches raced nightly --- camels too (did patrons wager on outcomes?). You could pet the tamer beasts. Oscar got the animals from Disney, shortly after Swiss Family Robinson wrapped. Never let it be said that WD wasn’t a showman’s friend. The Oasis had four cafeteria lines serving the usual fare, plus something called apple taffy, a new one on me, though I’ll concede Northern palettes may run contra to my own. Advertising circulars went on every tray, pushing whatever attractions were headed for the Oasis. All this could be had for an admission of $1.25, with children 12 and under free. "Early bird shows" kicked off at 5:00 on Sunday afternoons, presumably for those with vision adequate to divine moving figures faintly visible in summer daylight. With camels running dead heats around the track, I wonder how much difference it made what they flashed on the screen, never mind it's being discernible! Shopping sprees were not unknown among Oasis patrons. Vendors were salted in lounges throughout concession areas, peddling combs, brushes, pens, lipstick, perfume, toothbrushes, and Mexican jumping beans. Why weren’t we all living near Chicago in 1961?

Oscar shunned sex pictures. Guess that meant no Brigitte Bardot, nor art pictures along lines of La Dolce Vita and Satan In High Heels. No doubt he chilled on stateside sizzlers like Baby Doll and Peyton Place as well, though when you’ve a family friendly park enticing as this, why gum it up with pictures likely to offend? Safer by far to lean toward attractions like ones shown on the marquee here, and what’s wrong with a night spent watching Hondo, with an elephant ride in the bargain? Our own Starlite Drive-In, located just off hairpin curves leading to Statesville, NC, was more prosaic in its bill of fare. We had hula hoop contests, free (live) turkeys, nickel hot dogs, and pumpkin giveaways for thanksgiving shows. Sometimes you had to catch the turkeys, this but enhancement to gaiety. Our beloved Starlite was using remnants of prints long since abandoned by hardtops within a radius of two hundred miles. That stuff you saw on The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction about backwoods theatres running silent movies wasn’t too far off the mark where we were concerned. The Starlite unspooled The Oklahoma Kid and Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man in the mid-sixties. Red River and The Outlaw were still booking with us in the seventies. Were these somewhere concealed in the Starlite's hollow outdoor screen? No camel rides where I lived, but livestock roamed open drive-in fields, as I’ve alluded to before. All of which makes the prospect of an Oasis Drive-In seem all the more incredible, for if places like this truly existed, I can only imagine people lucky enough to have attended would carry happy recall to this day. Were any Greenbriar readers among them?


Blogger Anna said...

Hopefully someone with a bit of cash is reading this post with a lightbulb going off over his head. From the sound of it you might have to host it in a zoo, but there must still be an audience for this - even if the customers are too old to get on the elephants.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any idea if the Oasis Drive-In is still there, or when it was closed?

1:23 PM  
Blogger David said...

It's been demolished. Check out the details and some of the comments at:

Other good general reference sites:

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, LOVE the site!! I saw a double feature of "One Million Years B.C". and "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" in the 70's there. The whole family had a great time. Later, it was turned into a trailer park. I believe it is still there with the Oasis sign out front. It is on Elmhurst Road between Touhy and Oakton just five minutes from O'hare Airport.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it became the Oasis trailer park. The marquee is still standing, though altered to advertise its present function. It shut down not long after the Jerry Lewis Cinema (now Classic Cinemas Elk Grove Theater) was built (Oasis closed late in 1973). The Oasis was named for the Des Plaines Oasis on the Northwest (Jane Addams) Tollway, which opened the year before the theater did.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Debbie R said...

Actually the Oasis Drive In Theatre and Mobile Home Park is located in unincorporated Des Plaines, however the suburb mentioned in the web page should be Elk Grove Village. I lived in the Mobile Home Park from 1968 - 1974 and have fond memories of sneaking into the drive in through a couple of loose boards separating the residents from the drive in. In fact, towards the end of the drive in, the owner of the drive in resorted to showing Russ Meyer's "VIXEN", which caused several car accidents from people driving over the overpass and watching the film. Anyone making a left turn into the park or drive in was fair game at night.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived in the Mobile home park from 1966 to 1998, and as the Oasis Drive-In got near to the end of its run, it did show some X rated films...I go past the area frequently today, and the sign is still there, as the the last piece of the old drive-in. Few may also remember, that adjacent to the theater, after the animals were gone, a mini golf course went in its place. Those were the days!

5:56 PM  
Blogger Virtual Assistant said...

I lived in Oasis from 1972 thru 1986. Would be interested in reuniting with anyone between those years. We lived on Jackson.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Monette said...

I looked up Oscar Brotman after reading this piece, and found that he died in 1994, aged 78.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:23 AM  
Blogger Carolyn Flanigan said...

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3:39 AM  

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