Blue Starlite Drive-In Theater opening in Minturn this week for its summer run | VailDaily.com

Blue Starlite Drive-In Theater opening in Minturn this week for its summer run

Minturn is now home to the country's highest drive-in movie theater, at 7,861 feet above sea level in Minturn's Little Beach Park.

"I am quite proud of that. If you can't be the first at something, why bother?" reasoned Josh Frank, the movie-loving entrepreneur who launched the beloved Blue Starlite Drive-In Theater in Austin, Texas, and a satellite in Miami, Florida.

His latest venture pops up beginning Wednesday.

"We have been working for the last two years to make this possible, and the business is finally in a place where we can do it right," Frank said.

The Blue Starlite will feature famous '50s-friendly customer service, a traditional concessions stand and signature campfire roasted s'mores and offer food options from some of Minturn's best local proprietors.

There is space for 40 cars, and you can bring your lawn chair if you don't want to sit in your car.

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They're opening Wednesday with the classic Spaghetti Western, Clint Eastwood's "A Fistful Of Dollars," because Eastwood occasionally hung out at the Minturn Saloon. And so that's also where they're having the apres drive-in party.

Frank made a deal with his favorite haunt in the Vail Valley, Avon's Northside Coffee & Kitchen, so they're featuring the drive-in donut flight, like a beer flight, but with donuts.

In Minturn's Blue Starlite Drive-In, cars are closer to the sky than at any other drive-in in the country. Along with the family-friendly fare, they'll have Cheech and Chong's "Up In Smoke" and the "Wizard of Oz" with the alternative soundtrack, Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," which goes with the movie perfectly. It's real. You gotta see it.

All about a girl

Josh Frank's drive-in story revolves around a wonderful girl, as great stories must.

He went to film school and then to Austin, where he wrote and directed plays.

"Austin is a crazy city for doing crazy stuff. It's one of the last Wild West places for artists," Frank said.

He was putting on site-specific shows in Austin, places such as alleys and junkyards, and writing movies. Except movies are expensive and he was 21.

One of his movie ideas was to do a musical about the band The Pixies. He got in touch with Black Francis, the lead singer, who thought it was a brilliant idea. Black Francis is not the girl in this story, mostly because Black Francis is neither black nor a girl.

Frank spent a year researching the band and decided it would be a great book. A friend of a friend knew a book agent. Frank wandered in to see the guy, who turned out to be a Pixies fan. He got a book contract pretty much on the spot.

For the next eight years, he'd crank out a book every two or three years, which is good, but book advances left him a little short of cash.

To make ends meet, he bought a vintage trailer and sold desserts and unique concessions, including a s'mores roaster in the trailer.

Yes, girls like s'mores, but we're not quite there yet. Keep reading.

To separate himself from the rest of the food vendors, he showed movies on the side of his trailer. It was fun for a while, but he was 34 and hadn't met his true love. He sold the trailer and decided to move back to Washington, D.C., where his family lives.

A week later, he met Jessica Shapiro. Yeah, the girl in this story.

"She was beautiful (she still is, he says), and I had no idea how I was going to date her. I had no job, no money and no trailer," Frank said.

All artists need patrons. A couple of weeks prior to Frank being struck by Jessica lightning, a woman of monetary means loved his movie-on-the-side-of-a-trailer and s'more roaster idea. She had a building with a big parking lot in a downtrodden part of town and told Frank if he thought of anything he could do with it, to give her a call.

The day after he met Jessica, he called the woman, took a look at her building and convinced her to turn it into an artist's commune. He rented the rooms to artists and made enough money to date Jessica.

For their six-month anniversary, he painted the back wall white like a movie screen, put up a couple of speakers and drove Jessica to the parking lot for their own personal drive-in movie.

Amid all that romance, commerce also occurred to him.

"Why hasn't anyone done a mini drive-in movie theater?" Frank asked.

He bought some more drive-in speakers, got some of his artist friends to paint some vintage signs and started showing drive-in movies. He created some portable screens and took his show on the road, testing his pop-up drive-in in Miami.

He and Jake Wolfe drove around the Vail Valley and settled on Minturn. The Minturn drive-in is his first Colorado road show.

It's a great location for lots of reasons. Jessica's parents have lived in Vail for years, and Josh and Jessica recently had a baby, so they're sticking close to the grandparents.

Drive-In history

According to the Smithsonian, it goes like this.

On June 6, 1933, Richard Hollingshead opened the first drive-in theater in Camden, New Jersey. People paid 25 cents per car, as well as per person, to see the British comedy "Wives Beware" under the stars.

The concept of showing movies outdoors wasn't novel; people often watched silent films on screens set up at beaches or other places boasting an abundance of sky. However, it took an auto-parts salesman such as Hollingshead to see the genius in giving a car-loving society one more activity they could do in their vehicles.

He first conceived the drive-in as the answer to a problem.

"His mother was — how shall I say it? — rather large for indoor theater seats," said Jim Kopp, of the United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association. "So he stuck her in a car and put a 1928 projector on the hood of the car and tied two sheets to trees in his yard."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Blue Starlite Drive-In Theater schedule

Films begin at 8:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted, at Little Beach Park in Minturn. Start times and schedule are subject to change; visit http://www.bluestarlitedrivein.com for the most up-to-date listings and to purchase advance tickets.

• July 6 — Soft opening: “A Fistful of Dollars,” with Après Drive-In party at the Minturn Saloon

• July 8 — Grand opening: “Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Goonies” (11 p.m.)

• July 9 — “Grease: The Sing-Along”

• July 13 — “Grease: The Sing-Along”

• July 15 — “The Princess Bride” and “Cabin in the Woods” (11 p.m.)

• July 16 — “The Goonies”

• July 22 — “The Princess Bride” and “The Evil Dead” (11 p.m.)

• July 23 — “Back to the Future”

• July 29 — “The Shining” and Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke”

• July 30 — “Back to the Future,” parts I, II and III and campout (bring your own tent)

• Aug. 5 — “Wizard of Oz,” with Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” alternative soundtrack option, and Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke” (11 p.m.)

• Aug. 6 — David Bowie at the drive-in tribute, with “Labyrinth” and special Best of Bowie pre-show

• Aug. 12 — “Casablanca,” “Wizard of Oz,” with Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” alternative soundtrack option, and Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke”

• Aug. 13 — To be announced