Saturday, October 1, 2011
THE PAST MEETS THE FUTURE OF THE PRINCESS
What a wonderful historical event I was privileged to witness Wednesday - James "Dub" Harmon, manager of the Princess from 1951 until 1964, met Megan Anderson, the fifth and newest Princess manager, for the first time!
I think they hit it off immediately, and the first meeting ended with a warm "welcome/thank you" hug! This can only mean there will be more such meetings. Meetings where Megan will soak up all the Princess and Harriman history she can.
Dub began by telling us what the Princess meant to Harriman and the surrounding area. People used to fill the fifteen-foot-wide sidewalk (before the four-lane), all the way back to where Chase Drug is now, waiting to get into the Princess. This is evident is clearly shown in the 1939 grand opening film clip!
One 4th of July years ago, Dub related, they ran 3900 people through the Princess between 10AM and 11:30PM! At that time there was a city park where the American Legion is today, and people came there to celebrate, and then would come to the Princess.
There was always something going on at one of the theaters in town. The Princess used to have a special "Academy Award" promotion, where patrons attempted to match up the actors to the awards, and the closest won a living room suite!
Dub began working at the Princess in '41 or '42, time gets away from him a lot today, so he couldn't be exact, and Crescent thought he did such a great job they wanted to make him manager. However, it wasn't until 1951 that he became old enough to be "bonded", which was a requirement of the manager position.
As Dub remembers it, when the Webbo closed, O. L. Pritchett came to the Princess to replace outgoing manager L. W. Bevel. That was about the same time Mr. Harmon began working there, at about the age of 15 or 16.
About the only thing that did not burn when the Princess was destroyed in 1938, was the marquee. He remembers they cut the "SS" off the end of the Princess, and moved it down to where the Roxy was located, which was where Hall's 5 & 10 used to be located. It was not in a separate building, as some have speculated on Facebook. So, the Roxy/Prince building still stands in Harriman today.
The Roxy/Prince had only about 200 seats, and if you are old enough, you remember how narrow Hall's was!
One Halloween, the Roxy sold so many tickets to the scary movie, that they had to run a second movie up the street at the Webbo.
I asked Dub if he remembers a theater standing where the Princess is today and he said no. I asked what about the "Gay"? He thought a long time and then said that the Gay Theater was located on Clinton Street, somewhere on the block that H. G. Furniture is on, but on the opposite side of the block facing Clinton. I followed up by asking if the Gay was ever located where the Princess was built. He says the Gay may have moved to Roane Street, but isn't sure about where, or if that happened at all. Way before his time!
I plan on asking Lewis Spivey about this history next week. Megan also wants to meet this great Harriman historian, so I'll tag along!
So, when Cecil Johnson, the last Princess manager, got back from Korea in the early 50's, his brother-in-law, Dub Harmon, gave him a job as projectionist at the Princess. Cecil had experience at this job from his younger days at the Roxy. However, it wasn't long before Dub brought Cecil downstairs and began teaching him the managerial job.
Sometime in '64, Mr. Harmon and Junior Ballard began managing H. G. Furniture Company, which they later bought. Dub still works there today!
Cecil became the fourth Princess manager. Dub kept working in the theater business, except it was at night, after his day job, at the Midtown Drive-In. By then Martin Theaters had bought Crescent, and all sixty some theaters. So, Dub and Cecil had new bosses!
Cecil remained the manager until 1999, when he finally closed the theater, after having leased the business from Martin Theaters for a couple of years.
Folks, again I see in Megan Anderson someone that can and will carry the flame forward. She hung on Dub's every word, as he answered her tough questions. You can see the pride building in her for our Princess and Harriman. She has already made many contacts for support, for historical answers, and for thoughts on what the Princess should bring back to Harriman.
We gave her a t-shirt, after she admired the one I was wearing the first time we met. It was kind of a "we believe in you" gift, and she beamed when it was given to her.
Please get behind her and support her in her highs and lows folks, and let's keep the interest in this project and revitalization going. She will really mean it when she wears her "turning the lights on" t-shirt around campus and town. She wants to succeed in her new job and she wants the Princess to succeed!