Muse Watson gives the Princess another Christmas gift

Muse Watson made his first big stab in Hollywood as a villain in the film "I Know What You Did Last Summer," but he's been a local hero in Roane County.

Watson is one of the people behind saving Harriman's Princess Theater, the 1930s movie house that reopened earlier this year as an arts center. Watson, who has more recently had high profile recurring roles in "NCIS" (as Mike Francis) and "Prison Break" (as Charles Westmoreland) bought a home and property in Roane County in the late 1990s.

Watson would go to movies at the Princess Theater when he was in town and began to think about buying it.

"I had a dream of having a theater to give kids back all the things they were losing — music and theater, things that were being cut from schools," says Watson.

Watson began to inquire about purchasing the theater in 2000 and found out that local businessman Gary Baker was also interested. The two decided to meet.

"I was afraid he was gonna tear it down and turn it into a parking lot," says Watson. "He started telling me his dream for the theater and it was the same as mine."

The two realized, though, that the project was more than they could handle. By purchasing the theater and then giving it to the city of Harriman, the Princess could be eligible for grants to help with its renovation and upkeep. The city partnered with Roane State Community College to use the theater as an arts center and educational facility that would house a state-of-the-art community television station. Using government stimulus money, funds raised from the community and, later, a goodwill grant from TVA as part of the restitution for the Roane County ash spill, renovation began in 2008 and was completed earlier this year.

Tonight Watson and doctor and pianist Eric Littleton will present "A Celebration of Christmas Music," to raise funds to buy a grand piano for the theater. The shows falls on the heels of Watson performing in the musical "A Christmas Snow," in Branson, Mo. That musical was adapted from the 2010 film that Watson appeared in. Watson says a Broadway style musical was very different from most of what was happening in Branson. He'd like to present the show in Pigeon Forge sometime in the future.

Raised in Louisiana, Watson, 65, lived in Oak Ridge for a few years during his 20s, delivering and guarding nuclear fuel and appearing in plays at the Oak Ridge Playhouse. In 1989, he landed a small role in the film "Black Rainbow," and it was the beginning of a series of regular roles in TV and movies. Watson says it was when he taking a break recuperating from an injury he'd incurred while filming the movie "Rosewood" in 1997 that he returned to East Tennessee to look for a home.

He and his wife had considered Asheville, N.C., but his wife's family, who live in Kingston, decided they should look for something a little closer to their home. They found the perfect spot in Roane County.

"I have the mountains, a creek, a 150-foot waterfall ... Even in the winter I look out 360 degrees around my house and I don't see another house," says Watson. "I'm just overwhelmed with the beauty of the place."

He refers to it as his "hideout," and he and his family spend a great deal of time there.

Watson has, though, had a very active acting schedule lately. He recently appeared in the film "Meeting Evil," with Luke Wilson and Samuel L. Jackson, and has roles in the upcoming films "The Last Exorcism II" and "Compound Fracture." Although his character in "NCIS" was killed, he expects to return to the show as a ghost, and he has another television show in the works.

A few things have changed. Watson used to do his own stunts, but has had to stop.

"I had surgery for a brain tumor in 2001 and the doctor said, 'You take one good blow to the head and you're dead!' "

He says it's been satisfying to work with the Princess and help bring something he feels is very important to a new generation.

"Whether someone chooses arts as a way to make a living, which I don't encourage, it's a way to make your life fuller."


"A Celebration of Christmas Music"

With: Dr. Eric Littleton and Muse Watson

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Princess Theater, 421 N. Roane St., Harriman

Tickets: $10, available at 865-882-8867.

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