PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: January 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Ashville’s “Fine Arts Theatre” is an Art Deco style theatre that is the only theatre left operating in downtown Asheville. It originally opened as the “Strand Theatre” and had a seating capacity of 800 in orchestra and balcony.

Today it survives as a double screen theater showing first run American, foreign, and independent films. The theater now only seats 250, for the up and downstairs small screens. It is also the home of the Asheville Film Festival held in November of each year.

The building itself is a cream color with two sets of block glass running from the top of the building down to the marquee on each side. It has a small triangle-shaped marquee with the theatre name in neon on each side.

Gary and I visited the theater this past Saturday and met a very welcoming staff that was more than willing to talk about their lovely theater. We toured both levels of the theater, and I couldn’t help but think how much more room and seating (900) there will be in the Princess Theater once it’s restored. However, I would love to attend a film at the Fine Art’s Theatre sometime. I hear the projection and sound equipment is top-notch, and they do serve alcohol!

We also attended a concert by movie actor Jeff Daniels at the ultra-modern “Diana Wortham Theatre” later that same evening. This theater is a modern 500 seat proscenium theatre built in 1991. It is contained within Pack Place, a cultural center located in the heart of Asheville's beautiful downtown area. (I apologize for the quality of photos used here, but I only had my pocket camera.)

The Diana Wortham Theatre is perfect for stage and music productions requiring a small intimate venue with all the modern amenities and equipment. The floor seats 352, and the balcony seats 142, but all seats seem very close to the performances. Everything in the theater has the patron in mind; from the large clean restrooms, to the easy elevator ride between floors, to the conveniently located lavation bar in the downstairs lobby.

Still…I couldn’t help but think about what we will have in our Princess and how they got nuttin’ on us.

Now…if that money would just come through we could get started!

Friday, January 1, 2010


Veteran film and television director Harry Thomason is planning a film about the last ride Hank Williams, Sr. took, and has already begun collecting film clips for the production.

It is most probable that the ’52 Cadillac, driven by 18-year-old Charles Carr, with Hank asleep in the back seat, came through Roane County sometime on New Year’s Eve 1952. They were on their way to Canton, OH and points north, as a new beginning for Hank’s career.

Upon reaching Knoxville, Williams decided to try getting a flight out of McGee Tyson; however, the flight never occurred due to snow in the area.

Williams had his driver take him into Knoxville where they got a room at the Andrew Johnson Hotel. Some speculate that the 29-year-old entertainer was already dead, especially since porters had to carry him from the car to the room. Reports say Carr seemed nervous and later decided the group should push on toward Ohio in order to make Hank’s scheduled engagement.

Again Hank is carried from the room and placed, like a drunken man (maybe a dead man) into the back seat of the Caddy.

Regardless of when and where Hank Williams, Sr. died, his short life of alcohol and drugs (particularly morphine) took a toll on his skinny body, but it was not until arriving in Oak Hill, West Virginia that Carr determined his boss was dead.

The best historical account I found was from “Death of a Legend”. It makes for interesting reading and ties the story to East Tennessee. It’s still quite a mystery and makes great fodder for books and movies 57 years later.

Today, on the anniversary of that occurrence, Bill Landry coordinated/directed, and Doug Mills filmed several local vintage automobiles driving around the area. This footage was procured by Harry Thomason for his movie “The Last Ride”. Thomason called Bill, who is part of Princess Productions, just yesterday, but, even on short notice, Bill was able to get the needed cars, including a baby blue ’53 Cadillac convertible belonging to Rex Walls. The car is basically like the one Hank Williams was riding in as he passed this way.

I can find nothing on the Internet about this planned movie and nothing about when it might come out, but when it does we can all watch for the Trenton Street, Rocky Top General Store, and Riggs Chapel Road scenes. This may even be the first mention of the production on the Internet!

Other local car owners with period vehicles in the scenes were: Hubert Blaylock (his red Chevy), Boyd Woody (his black Plymouth), J. T. Robinson (his Model A), and, of course, J. D. Williams driving his black ’41 Ford.

One day soon, Roane State students will be prepared to shoot and edit for production companies too. The “Princess Performing Arts, Education, and Conference Center” will be equipped to teach them what they need in order to following their dreams in a career of movie, stage, radio, and television production. The industry will always be seeking trained and devoted employees for their productions and Roane State will become one of the best places to look for that talent.

That day is getting close too. Frank Sparkman still says he can make Chris Mason’s deadline of fall of 2010 if the promised TVA funding is received in January.

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