PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: February 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The poster at right is the final draft poster advertising the May 16th stage show at Roane Theater. Mark your calendars now, watch this blog, and your local news for more on the finalized “multi-media variety show” that will benefit the efforts to restore the Princess Theater!

This last week saw Bill Landry, Doug Mills, Brooks Benjamin, Michael Golebiewski, Gary Baker, and Paul Mashburn in the field interviewing and getting video footage of our beautiful area. You’ve probably already seen the special on J. D. Williams, local war hero and antique car collector which aired last week on WBIR. Bill Landry talked with J. D. this past week while Brooks Benjamin manned the video camera. Even more footage of the interview will be shown during the Roane State Theater stage show.

While that was going on, Doug Mills, videographer for the “Heartland Series”, and Paul Mashburn were out shooting video and stills from Buzzard’s Bluff and in Riverfront Park in Harriman. (A funny little thing happened on the bluff that you might find interesting! CLICK HERE!)

Earlier that morning the field-team met at the College of Veterinary Medicine on UT’s Knoxville campus. An interview with Dr. Terry Stevens was conducted and will be shown during the May show at Roane State. Doctor Stevens was adopted and raised by Eugene “Gene” Monroe Pickel, giving him a chance at a future he may not have had otherwise. Mr. Pickel is active in the Roane County politics and has become “the man” to talk to about historical facts involving Roane County. His book “A History of Roane County, Tennessee to 1860” was published in 1981.

So, as you can see, there is a lot of action going on behind the scenes and I’m sure you will like the final product. Please, mark you calendars and make a special effort to come see what promises to be a very entertaining stage show!

If you have ideas for the show, or future shows, please let us know! Send you thoughts to: AT

Saturday, February 14, 2009


A lot of work, by a lot of people, is underway to make possible a very entertaining show for the benefit of the Restoration of the Princess Theatre. The show, which will be emceed by “The Heartland Series’” Bill Landry, and presented at the Roane State Theater, will be called “Appalachian Dreams” and will showcase regional culture, traditions, history, and musical and acting talent.

The Princess Productions’ stage show is to be patterned after PBS’s "A Prairie Home Companion", made popular by the entertaining Garrison Keillor.

Monday evening found production planners Gary Baker, Bill Landry, Michael Golebiewski, Brooks Benjamin, Jon Chemay, and Bill Farnham gathered around a table of ideas on the stage at Roane State. Ideas always flow freely when creative people are involved, and you can be assured that these talented people will pull together a great show.

There is still a lot of "behind the scenes" planning, filming, and talent gathering to be done, but everything should be in place for the stage show planned for mid-May.

Please follow this blog, as well as your local news, for more specifics coming soon.

Following this planning meeting, Gary Baker and I briefed the South Harriman High School Alumni Association, who are planning a joint class reunion which will probably coincide with the planned stage show weekend, about the efforts many in Roane and surrounding counties are making to restore the Princess.

Before Gary left, the association gave him a hardy, and well deserved round of applause for his hard work in bringing attention to the Princess restortation.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


In the last post, I hinted at the long connection and affection that Hollywood has had with the Princess Theatre in Harriman. That relationship remains today in the love Muse Watson has for our Princess.

Muse Watson
(the man with the hook), even while being very busy currently with his career*, continually keeps abreast of the current work being done by the Princess Theater Partnership, the Restoration Committee, and a large cast of supporting citizens. The current focus is a Princess Productions stage show called Appalachian Dreams”, to be emceed by Bill Landry, at the Roane State Theater in mid-May. Even though Muse cannot be here for all the board and planning meetings, or the local filming, he checks in often with Gary Baker to get an update.

Muse, who owns a farm locally and often comes here to relax, has been involved with the Princess Theatre for several years. After Cecil Johnson retired in 1999, Muse and Gary Baker came to an agreement with Carmike Cinemas for the building in 2002.

Muse’s career began to take off about that time, so it was necessary for him to move to Hollywood in order to routinely make auditions for movies and television programs. Therefore, he turned everything over to Gary Baker, and to make a long story short, Gary turned it over to the City of Harriman, who leased it back to the Princess Theater Partnership. The good news is that the Princess still has a future and there are many people working hard to make it a centerpiece that will spearhead redevelopment in Downtown Harriman.

However, Muse still loves and is involved in promoting the theater. Just last year he was here pitching his love and dream for the Princess at a local fundraiser. He’ll be back soon, and if possible, will make the “Appalachian Dreams” show in May.

As you can see from the various photos, Muse has had a “hands on” approach to the restoration of the Princess. An article in Southern Living, back in 2002, featured Muse and Gary’s work in restoring the Princess. It’s obvious that he is not averse to getting his hands dirty or paint smeared!

I joined the band of interested parties just a couple of months ago, and I can attest to the fun and good feeling one gets from working on this dream. You can also see that good feeling in the smile on Muse’s face as he lends a hand. As an example, when he made the promotional video clip that is posted in the right sidebar, he had great fun with the film crew and especially with “Barney Fife(a.k.a. Sammy Sawyer), who actually held the cue cards for Muse!

I suppose I say all this just to let you know that there is room for you too! Join us!

If you do nothing else, please watch for upcoming announcements about the great show now being planned for the Roane State Theater that will entertain you, and give you a warm feeling about your local culture, heritage, and musical and acting talent. It will also give you a great feeling of pride knowing that you too helped support the restoration of a grand ol’ lady, the Princess Theatre!



Sunday, February 8, 2009


Ten months after a January fire, its second and most devastating fire, causing and estimated 50,000 1939 dollars worth of damage, the Princess Theatre* reopened the third time to grand local fanfare and Hollywood well wishes.

The first movie to be shown on the new theater’s screen, after reopening was “Fifth Avenue Girl”, starring Ginger Rogers.

Ms. Rogers, Jack Benny, Clark Gable, and others prominent in the “theater and movie business” were among dignitaries that sent their congratulations.

Ticket prices, 10 cents for children and 25 cents for adults, remained the same as before the fire. The first night audience was also treated to a short dedication service that included introductions of city officials, Crescent Amusement Company officials, and visiting Crescent theater managers.

For one night, it was as though Hollywood had come to Harriman, complete with flood- and spot-lights, and a real “Newsreel” photographer!

The Princess must have been something to see on that Thursday night of November 16.

A newspaper supplement to The Harriman Record with a banner headline of “The Dawn of a New Day for Theatre Patrons”, described the “Grand Premiere Opening”, heralded the new theater as the “South’s Finest Temple of Amusement”!

It further described the “ultra-modern” theater’s marquee as having “brilliant soffit lighting…black carrara structural glass, cromium (sic) trimming and red and blue marlite.

Underfoot is the shining terrazzo floor which extends into the foyer which is lined with marlite and the walls and ceilings are done in light shades of varying colors…enhanced by the soft light of…modern fixtures.”

Continuing inside the reporter describes the steps leading to the mezzanine and balcony as being covered in “soft, deep padded carpet in variegated colors...”

Highly stressed was the rebuilder’s intention of making the Princess “fireproof” for the safety of its patrons.

The United States Gypsum Company, then in Atlanta and Birmingham, supplied Sabinite Acoustical Plaster that was used extensively in the reconstruction.

It said to not only condition and enhance the acoustics of the theater, it also offered the additional value of being fire-proof.

Since this was after the second fire at the theater, the first one was in 1932; additional effort was put into advertising the building as “fire-proof”.

The builder even covered the roof in gypsum, hidden under 3 layers of felt and tar!

Cheaper “cello-tex” plaster could have been used in the walls and ceiling for around $350, however, the architects, and Crescent Amusement management, believed the $5500 for 3 coats of the Sabinite plaster’s acoustical and fire-proof properties was worth the extra cost.

After the 56 tons of steel was erected, workers began laying the 17” thick brick and cinder block walls, and pouring the first red “color pigment” concrete ever poured in Harriman.
No longer would the floors have to be repainted twice each year from shoe leather wear!
Soon, the Princess began resembling a movie “temple” once again.

Soon it was time to put in place the giant 500-pound speaker that could broadcast the slightest whisper through the perforated silver screen, onto the audience seated in “floating comfort” interlocking seats, that utilized no bolts or screws to tear ladies dresses, and with welded joints that eliminated all squeaks!

The original seats themselves must have been a beautiful thing to behold.

The backs are covered with light orange leather and the bottoms are of read maroon leather with green velour skirts.

The arms are of hard maple in natural finish…”

Just try and imagine the pride theater manager L. W. Bevel must have felt as his first night’s patrons stepped through the doors of the new Princess!

Just try and imagine what it would be like to see it just like that…just once more in our life time!

What pride might we feel, with grandchildren in hand, as they step through the doors of the Princess Theatre and see it for the first time, as it was meant to be seen, “A Temple of the Arts”!

The correct form is to refer to the building as “theater” and the art form as “theatre”.
You probably have noted that Crescent Amusement Company used the “theatre” form of the word in naming the Princess.

Not to be correct, but to follow tradition, this blog will henceforth refer to our beloved theater as the Princess Theatre.
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