PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: January 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009


The Princess Theatre was the highlight of entertainment during the days of my youth. Oh, there were other theaters, skating rinks, a bowling alley, a drive-in theater, and a number of drive-in restaurants, but my fondest memories are of being at the Princess watching great old 50s and 60s movies.

I remember watching all the great westerns there. My heroes were Roy
Rogers, Rex Allen, Gene Autry, Rod Cameron, Will Bill Elliot, Lash LaRue, and even ol’ Gabby Hayes, and Smiley Burnette, whom I met once!

Sometimes these screen stars visited the Princess too!

I remember the popcorn smell of the theater and the sticky/tacky touch of the floor between the seats and the little squishy sounds it made when you walked over it.

I remember the low hum of teenage voices, just under the movie sounds, whispering in the ears of their dates or remarks made out loud meant to make an impression on some pretty girl.

Occasionally, there was a live show, or at least a prelude show to build up the intrigue for the up coming horror show. “
If you frighten easily, or if you have heart problems, or if you are here alone, I advise you to leave now!

This, of course, only made you want to see the movie that much more. “
The screen will flash red just before a scary scene to warn you. That will give you time to hide your eyes!

Okay, okay,” everyone would shout, “get on with it!

I also remember watching the Harriman Christmas parades, back in the 70’s, from beneath the canopy marquee, and holding my son on my shoulders (pictured far right).

Corey was Dub Harmon’s grandson and Cecil Johnson’s nephew, so he, and his cousin Brandon Powers (pictured on left, atop James Keebler’s shoulders) had the run of the theater back then.

As his childhood friend, Jason Whitus, reminded me the other day, Corey’s birthday parties used to be in the balcony of the Princess. It’s good to remember that the balcony was used for some good other than separating us from each other.

How about you…got any Princess memories?

Why not send them to us and get them posted here!?

Who can guess what the banner behind us says?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Bill Landry, of the "Heartland Series", began the first class in Media Production Monday evening at Roane State Community College.On hand to commemorate the occasion as the first project undertaken by the Princess Theater Foundation and Roane State Community College, were (left to right): Bill Landry (Creator & Producer of the Heartland Series), Michael Golebiewski (Humanities Department at RSCC), Gary Baker (Local businessman), Chris Mason (Mayor of Harriman), and Bill Farnham (local Princess Foundation supporter). [Photo by J. Paul Mashburn (Foundation Supporter & Photographer)]

These two organizations are working hand-in-hand in an effort to revitalize Downtown Harriman and restore the Princess Theater.

This first ever Media Production class, with 17 enrolled, met at 6:30 Monday evening with Mr. Landry getting to know the class, their backgrounds, interests, and hopes for the class. Their first assignment was a little "acting" for the camera!The class project will culminate on May 16th with a public showcase of their work. Regional entertainment will also be presented to make up what promises to be a very entertaining evening at the RSCC Theater. This program will kick off public awareness and support for the restoration of the Princess Theater and the plan to make this area an arts education and conferencing center, with the express intention of revitalizing downtown Harriman by bringing business and attention back to Harriman.

Stay tuned...a lot is about to happen!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


The Princess Theater has been entertaining Roane and surrounding counties for over 70 years (’32 and ’39)! The heyday of her importance to the community may have been the vital diversion she offered during the World War II years, with promotional events such as “Bank Night”, during which a whopping $75 was given away! That was big money in those days!

It wasn’t just the movies, like “Gone with the Wind”, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, Vincent Price horror movies, or Roy Rogers and Trigger westerns that entertained us. Often it has been live entertainment on stage, or on a temporary stage out front on Roane Street.

Unfortunately, most entertainment events are outside these days, but the Princess Theater still takes center stage by offering shelter and a focal point along Roane Street. We’ve all been there! Remember the “Tennessee Polk Salad Association’s” street and park events every year, or how about the Harriman’s Car Shows, and their “Cruisin’ in Historic Downtown Harriman” the second Saturday of each month during the summer!?
It is the hope of many local leaders and interested supporters, that the Princess will again soon be the indoor stage for local live events and entertainment.

Over the years, the Princess has seen many movie and television stars, nationally known as well as home-grown musicians, and happy pageant queens come to entertain the local masses.

It has even been the sanctuary to some who just wanted a quiet peaceful place to say “I do”, like Brooks Benjamin and
Jackie Barnes back in March of 2008!

Someday real soon, she will again be the site of entertainment! The Princess Theater will become an arts, education, and conferencing center for all to enjoy.

Keep watching this site and your local news for more information on upcoming events that will celebrate local student accomplishments, regional entertainment, and showcase the bright future of the Princess Theater.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


In May of 2008, a catered fundraiser for the restoration of the Princess Theater was held at the home of Dr. Terry and Kathy Bingham, in Harriman. Invited guest were also treated to a feast for the ears by country music superstar Clint Black, who performed an acoustic set of some of his biggest hits, such as "Killin' Time" and "A Better Man."

Some of those in attendance included "The Heartland Series" host Bill Landry, University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl with Brandy Miller (not pictured), soul-music entertainer Archie Bell, Roane State Community College President Dr. Gary Goff (not pictured), Carla and Ted Hatfield with Regal Entertainment Group (not pictured), Roane County Executive Mike Farmer (not pictured), Harriman Mayor Chris Mason and wife Shasta, photographer Shannon Stansfield (not pictured), Harriman businessman Gary Baker and veteran actor Muse Watson, who lives in Los Angeles but has a farm near Harriman. Watson has made numerous television and movie appearances, which include recurring roles on "Prison Break" and "NCIS," and the teen-stalker in the horror film "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and its sequel.

Baker donated the Princess Theater to Harriman in 2007. The money raised at the gathering will go towards the $1.9 million renovation project. The building is then planned to become a cultural and educational center for the arts, as well as a conferencing center of the regional area. The facility will be operated and managed by the Princess Theater Foundation and the City of Harriman, in cooperation with the Tennessee Technology Center and the Roane County School system.

The active center will serve as a seven-county center for cultural, educational, conferencing events, and as studios for a new public-access television station. COMCAST has provided Channel 15 to be used locally and operated by the students of Roane State.

As you can see, there are many people who care about making this dream come true. You too can become involved and take pride in a renewed downtown Harriman.

Monday, January 19, 2009


The Princess Theater first opened in 1926, but the 900 seat Princess was damaged by fire six years later. In 1939, the theater was completely destroyed by a blaze, but was rebuilt within 10 months with an “Art Deco” design with 854 seats, courtesy of Paramount Studios.

During World War II, while the secret city of Oak Ridge was under construction a few miles away, there were three showings a day, each one sold out.

The theater screened its last movie in 1999, when Cecil Johnson, long time operator and lessee of the building, retired. It officially closed in that same year.

Local officials (See the cast of partnerships and directors in the sidebar.) are now joining hands with Hollywood bad guy Muse Watson, to restore and revitalize the theater. The Princess Theater Partnership and the Princess Theater Restoration Committee Board of Directors are determined to return the Princess Theater to its active place in the community, and turn it into a center of cultural excellence! The Princess will provide a stage for live music and theater, to be enjoyed by the entire region, and a facility for arts education programs , and become a regional teleconferencing center that will bring attention and business to the area.

The visionary’s plans include a $1.9 million renovation, which will allow the facility to be managed by the Princess Theater Foundation and the city of Harriman, in cooperation with the Tennessee Technology Center and the Roane County School system. Through educational funding assistance, and the public entertainment programs that will originate there, the Princess Theater can continue to serve the community for years to come.

With the assistance of the Harriman City Mayor, Chris Mason, COMCAST has provided a public access television channel (CH 15) to be used by Roane State students to broadcast local entertainment productions to the area.

Other hopes are that the Tennessee Technology Center will teach theater lighting and stage design, while public schools from around the area may use the building for programs, plays and special events.

It would be an ideal location for weddings, concerts, dance recitals and screenings of classical movies,” Gary Baker has stated. “It's hoped a vibrant Princess Theater will lure restaurants, specialty shops and other new businesses downtown.”

You bet…with the hard work of the Princess Theater Partnerships and its many interested community volunteers, the Princess will soon entertain us again!

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