Genealogy, Local History

Joe King & the Sultan of Kuwait…and a lot more…

As always, most of the images in this post can be seen at full size by clicking on the picture.

This 2007 segment of Our State on UNC-G TV serves as a perfect introduction to the saga of Joe King and Earline Heath and a cast of thousands spanning almost a hundred years. Earline was 94 when this was made.



The national press swarmed backwoods Kentucky for the Floyd Collins story in 1925. It is said to have been the third largest radio story between the two World Wars.

Joe King was famous before he was famous. On January 30, 1925, Floyd Collins became trapped in Sand Cave, near the Mammoth Cave complex in Kentucky. A huge rescue effort was mounted, to no avail. Collins body was recovered 18 days later, about four days after he died of thirst and exposure. The story became a national sensation, with daily newspaper headlines and hourly updates on the budding radio networks. Fiddlin’ John Carson and Vernon Dalhart released “The Death of Floyd Collins” on Columbia records. And an ad appeared in the Greensboro Record.


Joe King was 14 when this ad appeared

Joseph Wallace King, Jr. was born in southern Virginia on May 11, 1911. When their house burned down, times became hard for his family. They moved several times over the next few years. Joe often named Bennett, NC, near Siler City, in southwestern Chatham County, as one of those places. But the 1920 US Census shows them living in Center Township in  Chatham County, NC, near the city of Pittsboro, where Joe’s father was engaged in the real estate business. Around that time, Joe, age nine, noticed that there was a fad for having initials painted on car doors, so the first Joe King painting enterprise was born. The Kings soon moved to Greensboro, where Joe’s father worked first as a carpenter, then as a building contractor. On July 14, 1922, at age 11, Joe fell from a seesaw at school in Greensboro and suffered a compound fracture of his left arm. That night, the doctors were forced to amputate the arm because blood poisoning was developing, thus ending his childhood ambition to become a high wire walker in the circus. According to Joe, the doctor botched the setting of the bone and failed to follow sterile procedures.


Joe with his sister Madeline and cousin Wilhemina, c 1922

At some point, Joe acquired a dummy and taught himself the ventriloquist’s art. He called the dummy Charlie Green. But the driving force of his life was already art, specifically, portrait painting. He hungered for formal training. His older sister Mary had married Abe Nail, a bookkeeper for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. She reported that the Reynolds High School art department, directed by Syracuse University graduate Marion Leiger, was considered one of the best in the nation. So, in 1927, Joe went to live with Mary and Abe at 430 East Fourteenth Street in the Twin City and began attending the R.J. Reynolds High School, where he quickly found his niche in the art and drama world. And in that world, he met the precocious, beautiful, charming and talented Earline Heath, who would become a huge part of his life for the next half century.


Joe and Earline, art editors of the Reynolds High School Black & Gold yearbook

Earline Elizabeth Heath was born in Winston, NC, April 11, 1913, the only child of Earlie and Zeola Heath. Earlie was a partner with H.W. Lee in the Lee & Heath barber shop near the Zinzendorf Hotel on North Main Street. Early on Earline exhibited talent in music and art. When she entered Reynolds High at age 14, she quickly became a force in all artistic areas, helping to build the school’s arts, drama and music clubs. Soon, she and Joe were inseparable.


Pen Art club at RJRHS, 1928. Earline Heath, at left in front row, a sophomore, was president.

Although Joe was three years older than Earline, she was a year ahead of him in school. During her senior year, Joe feared that some other guy would snap her up, so somehow managed to persuade her to marry him. On March 4, 1930 they secretly drove to Virginia in a car that Joe had bought with money earned doing artwork for the local theaters, lied to the license clerk about Earline’s age and paid a local minister $2 to marry them. He was 18, she was 16.


Art Club at RJRHS, 1929. Joe, Earline and Theron Snider are seated left to right on the bench. They were the dominant force in high school art statewide for three years.

At first they continued to live at their respective homes, but soon the secret marriage was discovered. Of course, everyone assumed that Earline was pregnant, which they both found amusing, since she wasn’t. This was all about love. Soon Joe moved into Earline’s parents’ home at 415 Irving Street in Ardmore. Earline graduated from Reynolds in 1930 and used a scholarship that she had won to attend Greensboro College for a year, but by 1933 they were living at 3054 North Patterson Avenue. Joe continued working as an artist for the Colonial and Carolina Theatre. The Joe King legend says that he made $22 a week, about $2 more than a public school teacher. He and Earline also worked as interior decorators.


Joe and Earline moved into their first real home at 3054 North Patterson Avenue around 1932.

While they were in high school, the couple pretty much dominated both the local and state arts scene. They ran the high school arts and drama clubs and were the art editors for both the newspaper, “Pine Whispers”, and the yearbook, “Black & Gold”.

* In 1927, as everyone knows, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, making him, overnight, the most famous person in the world. Upon his return, he made a triumphal tour of the nation, making two stops in North Carolina, in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, where he spent the night at the Robert E. Lee Hotel. The day before, in Greensboro, there was a procession from the airport to the Memorial Stadium, where Lucky Lindy was greeted by a huge crowd, which included the governor of North Carolina and every other elected official who could squeeze onto the speaker’s platform. But other than Lindbergh’s speech, only three things happened on the stage. Some Girl Scouts presented Lindbergh with a floral tribute, the mayor of Greensboro presented him with a set of the complete works of O’henry and 16 year old Joe King presented him with portrait of his famous self. Headlines across the nation trumpeted “One-armed boy artist presents Lindbergh with portrait.” Barely a week later, Joe took an ad in the Greensboro “Daily News” announcing the opening  of his first studio at 314 1/2 South Elm Street in Greensboro. His first public show was held shortly thereafter in the windows of “Mr. Roger McDuffie’s drugstore” nearby.


October, 1927: Joe (at right) leaves the stage at War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro moments after presenting Charles Lindbergh with his portrait.

* In the 1920s and 30s statewide high school competitions in the arts, involving thousands of students, were as important as sports are today. In 1930 Earline Heath won the championship in the state solo soprano singing contest, which included a scholarship to study voice at Greensboro College.


The first known signed artwork by Earline Heath, RJRHS Black & Gold.

* In 1928, Joe won the statewide poster contest, sponsored jointly by the state PTA Association and the University of North Carolina. The next year, Reynolds classmate Theron Snyder won. Joe came in second, with Earline in third, a sweep for RJRHS. The next year, Joe won for the second time.


The first known signed artwork by Joe King, RJRHS Black & Gold. He had already developed his lifelong signature.

* In February, 1929, the R.J. Reynolds art, music and drama departments joined forces to put on the most ambitious stage production in state high school history, “Once in a Blue Moon”, a contemporary operetta with a cast of over 140. Joe, Earline and Theron Snyder produced several hundred posters advertising the performance, while designing and producing the sets and costumes. The show went on before standing room only audiences at the high school auditorium. Oh, and Earline had the female lead, “Moon Lady”, of course.


Joe, at left, with Eugene Pratt as cossacks in the 1930 play “Death Comes to Sonia”, written by classmate Esther Roush. It won the state original drama contest that year.

* In May of 1931, Joe won the gold medal in the Thomas Jefferson Society’s “Scroll of Honor” contest, honoring Admiral Richard Byrd’s Antarctic adventure. At the awards dinner, Joe presented the scroll to Admiral Byrd. His medal and the scroll were displayed at the New York Museum of Natural History for the remainder of the year.

* In December of 1931, Joe won first prize in the national poster competition of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. The poster depicted an aviatrix, dated 1932, with a woman seated at a spinning wheel in the background, dated 1862. He was awarded $50 and his poster was reproduced thousand of times for use during National Business Women’s Week in March, 1932.


* At some point, Joe made a bust of Abraham Lincoln which he presented to the high school library. It was still there the last time we looked.


Earline graduated from RJRHS in 1930.


Joe had a lot on his plate, so took his time, graduating from RJRHS in 1933 at age 22.


In 1934, Joe and Earline vacationed in Washington, D.C. and fell in love with the nation’s capitol. By 1935, they were living at 707 22nd Street in Virginia Heights, an unincorporated community in Arlington, VA, just outside the District, where Joe worked as a graphic artist and Earline did film coloring for a photography studio.


707 22nd Street, Virginia Heights.



By then, Joe had acquired a new dummy which he named Brandywine. He and Earline developed a nightclub show, with Earline singing and dancing and Joe performing a comedy routine with Brandywine, which they took to the DC-Baltimore area theater, hotel and club circuit. Earline also sang with various bands in the area.



During World War II, they took their act on the road, performing for the USO. When the war ended, Earline went to New York to study the millinery art with the famous Lily Dache. There an agent put them on the Baltimore to Boston vaudeville circuit for a year, where they performed as “Joe and Earline King with Brandywine.” They returned to Winston-Salem in 1946 when Joe got a lucrative portrait commission. They soon established a close relationship with Charles and Mary Reynolds Babcock, which led to more lucrative commissions. In need of a studio, Joe persuaded the Babcocks to turn over the former Reynolda blacksmith shop to him. He always said that even as he was rearranging the building, horses were still being shod on Saturdays in one corner.


Joseph Wallace King portrait of Edward Dancy, the last Reynolda blacksmith.


The Joe King/Vinciata studio on Reynolda Road.


Left to right, Winifred Penn Knies Babcock, Joe, Earline and Charles Babcock.

Because they were both talented, charming and energetic, Joe and Earline became major players in the local social scene. As the centennial of the founding of Forsyth County approached, they moved to the forefront as organizers and participants. Most of the events in 1949 were hosted by Joe and featured Earline in prominent roles. That would continue for three decades. When R.J. Reynolds’ daughter Nancy Susan organized a huge Reynolds family reunion to celebrate the restoration of the Reynolds homestead, with venues in Patrick County Virginia and at Reynolda and Roaring Gap, Joe was the master of ceremonies.


Joe, third from left, was at the center of everything when Forsyth County celebrated its centennial in 1949. Earline, no doubt, was just offstage coordinating things.

In 1950, Joe was encouraged to run for the State House. At the press conference announcing his candidacy, his newest Brandywine dummy interviewed him. When asked about his platform, Joe replied that he wanted all North Carolinians to be happy and prosperous. Brandywine allowed as how that was not a platform. “Joe, you don’t know from nothin” Brandywine said, predicting a loss. Joe won and went to Raleigh without a platform. There he proposed creating rest stops along public highways and selling personalized license plates to increase state revenue. Those did not fly at the time, but are now well established traditions. He also proposed that each member of the state legislature come up with a way to raise a million dollars for the state without raising taxes. For that, he got only blank looks.


In 1952, the local representative to the US House, Thurmond Chatham, sent a letter to newspaper editors and civic clubs in his district stating that the Sultan of Kuwait was in the United States and would be happy to visit any city that would put on a luncheon for him and his twelve favorite wives. The local civic clubs, always eager for national exposure, jumped on the bandwagon.


This photo of the Sultan of Kuwait and his favorite wife ran on the front page of the Winston-Salem Journal the day before his entourage arrived in the Twin City. Joe King later confessed that the picture was shot in a neighbor’s back yard. Since it was raining in Washington that day, he had someone sprinkling the car with a hose. Details are important.

On the day before the Sultan’s arrival in the Twin City, the Winston-Salem Journal ran a picture on the front page of the Sultan and his number one wife leaving the Egyptian embassy in Washington. The next morning, a special Piedmont Airline flight arrived at Smith Reynolds airport. The Sultan and his twelve wives trooped off, to be greeted by mayor Marshall Kurfees and other local dignitaries. The mayor presented them all with the keys to the city. The event was covered by the two best reporters in town, Bonnie Angelo for the Sentinel and Roy Thompson for the Journal.


Mayor Marshall Kurfees greets the Sultan and his harem at Smith Reynolds Airport.

A fourteen convertible cavalcade to the downtown area ensued, with a full police escort, sirens screaming, as thousands watched from the sidewalks. The R.J. Reynolds High School band played “Are You From Dixie?” As the Sultan and his harem entered the Robert E. Lee hotel, a bystander said of one of the wives “If that ain’t Helen Stanley, I’ll eat my hat.” He got withering looks from most present. The luncheon was held at the posh Balinese Roof of the Robert E. Lee Hotel. After eating, the Sultan delivered an address in impeccable British English, urging better relations between his nation and the U.S.A. That was followed by two of his wives performing the “Dance of Love”. When the dance was done, Agnew Bahnson, Jr. said “I want to see what these wives look like.” He reached across the table and lifted the veil of one of the wives, at which point the Sultan drew a huge dagger and, screaming authentic British/Arab curses, leaped across the table at Bahnson. Two Winston-Salem police officers, who just happened to be standing nearby, intervened. At that point, Joe King took the mike and explained.


The only usable photo of the Sultan and his harem at the Balinese roof. Unfortunately, there was one small breakdown in the planning for the Sultan’s visit. The honored guests were seated in front of the windows, creating a backlit situation that even the great Frank Jones could not overcome.

Turns out that the whole thing was a hoax, cooked up by Joe and Agnew and a few others, with the complicity of Congressman Chatham, Piedmont Airlines president Tom Davis and Journal/Sentinel publisher Wallace Carroll, to promote the annual Arts Follies. The theme of the Arts Council fund raiser that year was “Arabian Nights.” The Sultan turned out to be Bryan Balfour, a local dramatist and art graduate student at Salem College. And the harem was made up of local women, several of them nurses or nursing students. One of them was the aforementioned Helen Stanley, who, with Vinnie Frederick, operated the School of the Dance near the corner of Hawthorne Road and First Street. She had formerly danced with George Ballanchine’s company. The others were Diane Harris, Julia Surratt, Hallie Mae Swain, Vinnie Frederick, Linda March, Barbara Blakley, Loretta White, Marilyn Ruff, Nancy Wilson, Rita Perryman and Nancy Whicker. Helen Stanley and Vinnie Frederick performed  the “Dance of Love”. The police officers, Lieutenant Jim Cofer and Sergeant Dick Satterfield were, of course, part of the setup.


Helen Leitch (center) was a principal in George Ballanchine’s first production for American dancers, “Serenade”, which premiered March 1, 1935 at the Adelphi Theater in New York. She later married musician Allan Stanley and moved to Winston-Salem, where she starred in Joe King’s Sultan hoax and taught a couple of generations of girls the joy of dance.

Some people lack a sense of humor. Others wake up every morning looking for an excuse to be outraged. Some civic leaders were livid at having been duped. A few preachers delivered sermons about the evils of polygamy. Wallace Carroll was criticized for publishing fake news. Both Joe and Thurmond Chatham lost their bids for reelection that year. Some blamed their great hoax. But the Arts Council fundraiser set a record that would not be matched for some time to come.


Earline, left, with Mayor Marshall Kurfees, Arts Follies, 1953.

Joe didn’t care. He and Earline set off to Italy to study art. By the time that they got back, he was Vinciata, who would become famous world wide for his sensuous paintings of young women with dark, cloudy Italian backgrounds and his controversial portrait, as Joseph Wallace King, of the British queen, Elizabeth II.



But first there would be a few one man exhibitions to get him off the ground, one in Washington, then at the world famous Hammer Gallery in New York and finally in Paris. By the time that was done, both Joseph Wallace King, the portrait painter, and Vinciata, the artist, were household words.


When Joe and Earline left D.C. in 1946, they were missed by their fans, who wondered what had happened to them. That question was answered in the fall of 1948 when Joe’s first big one man show opened at the Harris & Ewing Studio on F Street in Washington, as reported by Robert Erwin’s news service. Note the list of Twin City and North Carolina portrait subjects, all done in under two years. And soon another rising star from the Twin City let the night life crowd know where their favorite entertainers had gone.




A who’s who of Winston-Salem attended Joe’s Paris exhibit.

But the biggest splash would come from Joseph Wallace King’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The British press had a lot of fun with that, crafting headlines calling Her Majesty the “Hollywood Queen”. Most had no problem with the portrait, but a few were outraged. Why? Well, normally, portraits of royalty in Britain have the subjects in formal poses attired in official regalia. Joe King’s portrait showed Elizabeth relaxing, wearing an ordinary long dress. In the end, the portrait made Joe famous everywhere in the British Empire.


There are a couple of little secrets about that portrait. At the formal sitting, the Queen’s favorite Corgi was absent. Joe later posed the Corgi and painted it into the frame at her feet. But better yet, the Queen happened to be wearing a gown that caused problems. Earline explained it many years later, in the video that begins this post. For those who missed it, here is the story.  The gown was designed for a standing portrait. When Joe had the Queen sit down, it bunched up in all the wrong places, but he went ahead and did the painting. Then, safely back home in the Camel City, he had Earline pose in a gorgeous white and gold dress that she had bought in Paris, then painted that onto the Queen’s portrait. So when you look at that famous portrait, you are looking at the Queen’s face and Earline’s body and dress. Earline points out that the Queen never mentioned that the dress was not the dress she was wearing at the sitting. Along the way, Joe painted a wide range of subjects, ranging from local legends to the wildly infamous.


Anyone who ever heard of Summit School knew about Louise Futrell. She was synonymous with the school. Dewitt Chatham Hanes once told me a great story. She said that her son, the late Philip Hanes, had been a problem student at Summit, and that Miss Futrell had sent him home early on numerous occasions. One day the phone rang. Miss Futrell said “Dewitt, you’re going to have to come get Philip once again. And this time, you’re going to have to keep him.” When I asked Philip about that, he said “Oh my, you know way too much about me.” Of course, he was actually rather proud of his bad boy image, early and late.


A few weeks after Richard Nixon was inaugurated as President of the United States, he sat, or stood, or leaned,  for a Joseph Wallace King portrait. The Nixons liked it a lot, but it was not selected as Nixon’s “official” presidential portrait. Joe later realized that he had made a mistake by applying his usual Vinciata background…an official portrait requires the U.S. capitol or the White House. Joe always said that there was a secret in this painting, but never told anyone what it was, so we will probably never know.

In the 1960s, one of Joe’s schoolmates at Reynolds High, Charles Keaton, a concert pianist and composer, wrote a tribute to four of Joe’s paintings, the Vinciata Suite. On April 26, 1966, the suite made its world premier at the R.J. Reynolds Auditorium. Our copy of the program, a single card, is reproduced below, front and back.


The front was Joe’s Vinciata portrait of John Iuele, the man who transformed the Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestra from the amateur realm to the professional in the mid-1950s.


The back was the actual program, identifying the principals, including Jane Frazier Coker, also a graduate of R.J. Reynolds High School and Salem College.


Left to right, Joe King, Charles Keaton and Robert Mayer, the music director at R.J. Reynolds High School, who did the symphonic arrangement for the Vinciata Suite. Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection.


Joe painted three Saudi kings, and members of their families.


Probably my favorite Joe King prank. The Southeastern Theological Seminary came to occupy the former Wake Forest College campus near Raleigh after Wake Forest College moved to Winston-Salem. In the picture, Dr. Lolley is looking out his office window at the Binkley Chapel. Dr. Lolley was a brilliant man, who also had a sense of humor. He collaborated with Joe on other pranks as well. Lolley Hall on the current campus is named for him.


Despite his frantic painting, prank and social schedule, Joe always seemed to have time for any other interesting thing that might come up. At one point in the 1960s, the city of London decided to do away with the old London Bridge and offered it up for auction to the highest bidder. Joe’s bid was not enough. London Bridge now spans part of the Colorado River in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.


Joe heard that the largest painting in the world was “The Battle of Gettysburg”, over 400 feet long. So he tracked down the owner and bought that painting and several other oversized works. When the painting arrived in the Twin City, Joe had it unrolled on the floor of the Big Winston Tobacco Warehouse on North Trade Street, where Journal & Sentinel photographer Bill Ray snapped this shot, with Joe as a tiny dot in the distance. Joe left the painting to Wake Forest University, which later sold it to private investors.

Meanwhile, in the early 1960s, one of Earline’s friends suggested that she take up sculpture. Earline had no interest whatever. But her friend went ahead and signed her up for a sculpture class at the Arts and Crafts Association at the Hanes Community Center near the fairgrounds and coliseum. Earline had no intention of going, but somehow wound up there, where she encountered instructor Gardner Gidley and the wonders of clay. Before she knew it, she was sculpting away. One day, someone asked her if she would do a sculpture of them. They mentioned a sum of money. Earline could not believe that anyone would pay money for her work. They did. Over the next fifty years, she completed about 350 commissions, ranging from busts of ordinary people to life sized works of the heroic. She usually signed her work HK, for Heath King.


Probably Earline’s best known sculpture, just across the parking lot on Main Street from the Winston-Salem City Hall. The statue was designed by Joe King and executed by Earline. Contrary to myth, this is not supposed to depict R.J. Reynolds arrival in the Twin City. It is a classical heroic statue, which requires a man on horseback and has nothing to do with real life. While we are at it, let us dispense with another myth that R.J. himself liked to cultivate, which had him walking barefoot and poor from No Business Mountain in Patrick County to begin his tobacco empire. The truth is far less dramatic. By 1875, R.J. had been selling the products of his family’s small tobacco factory over a large area. But he wanted more. So he sold his share of the family business to his father and brothers and told them that he was going down to Winston to start a real tobacco factory and make $80,000, then retire. R.J. rarely did anything that did not make him a profit, so he filled a wagon with apples from the Reynolds orchard and drove it to Winston, where he sold the apples. In his pocket was a letter of credit for $3,000, a small fortune in those days. Of course, by the time he had made his $80,000 he had a tiger by the tail that he could not let go off, so went on to make several million before his death in 1918.


Earline also sculpted Bowman Gray, R.J.’s hand picked successor, at the entrance to the Bowman Gray School of Medicine, which preceded the arrival of Wake Forest College in the Twin City by 15 years. Bowman almost always wore a hat in public, but Earline liked his part-in-the-middle hairstyle, so put his hat in his hand so we could see it.


The Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is a veritable museum of Earline’s work. Here we see her working on the Air Care Memorial which honors the three Air Care crew members who died in a helicopter crash. It is located on the WFBMC helicopter pad. Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection.

For 23 years, Earline taught dozens of young sculptors. She exhibited her work at many galleries around the world, including a 1993 one woman show at the Galleria Luigi Bellini in Florence. In addition to her work, Earline contributed to the community by serving on the boards of the Mozart Club, the Winston-Salem Symphony, the Piedmont Opera, and was a life  member of the Brenner Children’s Hospital and the Amos Cottage. In 1997, at age 83, she began a two term run as the first woman president of the 100+ year old Twin City Club.


Some may recall from fifty years ago a school called Winston-Salem Teachers College, which comprised a handful of buildings. Things have changed a bit since then at Winston-Salem State University. Take a drive over and look around. You might not recognize the place, but you will surely see Earline’s statue of Dr. Simon Green Atkins, the founder and one of our city’s truly great men.


Commodore Funderburk worked at the local Industries for the Blind and never missed a day of work in 41 years. When Earline was called upon to sculpt him, she put him on the ground, leaving off the usual pedestal, because his colleagues could identify him by simply touching his face.

Earline won many awards for her work as a sculptor and for her role as a citizen of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, ranging from local Arts Council awards to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the most prestigious award for state residents, conferred by Governor Mike Easley on her 90th birthday. Although she only attended Greensboro College for one year, she was later presented the Alumni Excellence Award and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts by the college. The Sculpture and Pottery Studio at the Sawtooth School is named in her honor.


Read this book!


My favorite HK work…David Rolfe of the Journal caught garden activist Barbara Ackerman sprinkled with snow in her hiding place behind the hedges at Grace Court. Looks as if she could use a coffee from the Peppermill.


Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection

Meanwhile, as with most great romances, the gild was slowly coming off the lilly. In 1981 Joe and Earline King were divorced in Guilford County. Shortly thereafter, Joe married Deborah Coleman. He was 70, she was 23. Deborah grew up near Pilot Mountain. She first posed for Joe when she was 13, in the early 1970s. And she kept on posing, and as that happened, she became more than just a model. She became a companion, an adviser and a lover. She has said that she fell in love with Joe at first sight, not hard to believe, because Joe was a handsome, sophisticated and talented man. She has also said that she cannot pinpoint the moment that her feelings became true love, but that certainly happened.


One thing is for certain. Anyone who has seen the paintings that Joe made of Deborah in the 1970s knows that the feeling was mutual. Joe and Deborah moved to Italy, so they were not around the Twin City as much. We know much less about their life together. But we do know that it must have been good. They were married for fifteen years, until Joe’s death of a massive heart attack at age 84. Since then, Deborah has been a tenacious conservator and promoter of Joe’s work.


The cover of Joe’s autobiography shows him with the wedding portrait that he painted of Deborah. He loved to tell the story of how he got the title for the book. One day he was painting in the garden of Charles and Mary Babcock’s left coast home on Sunset Boulevard. “George Carter, a black man with roots in the South worked for them and stood behind me watching. I turned to him and said ‘George, will you go to the house and bring me a couple of rags to wipe my brushes on?’ He looked at me and answered ‘Mr. King, don’t you know there ain’t no rags in Beverly Hills?’ ”

Joe was never one to limit himself. In addition to his entertainment and painting endeavors, he loved drama at any level. Deborah says that she has boxes of the plays that he wrote, two of which, “North Light” and “Blood, Thunder and Kathryn”, were performed in Winston-Salem. And some of us remember his epic movie “Somebody Moved My Mountain” (1975), which involved many prominent locals in starring roles and which had its world premier at the Winston Theater on Fourth Street. Below you will find links to a highlight version and the released version of that movie, along with videos of Joe and Deborah. Enjoy.

This has been a very condensed and incomplete version of several intensively lived lives. Someone should write a big thick book about it all. If anyone is interested, much of Joe King’s archive is located at Elon University. And Deborah is still around to guide you. Get cracking.


Joseph Wallace King, aka “Vinciata”, died January 15, 1996, at his studio in Winston-Salem. He was 84.

Earline Heath King died June 27, 2011 at the Hospice and Palliative Care Center in Winston-Salem. She was 98. Her final work, still in progress when she died, may be seen at First Baptist Church on Fifth Street in Winston-Salem.


Lady Godiva Rides Again

This did not quite fit into any part of the story, so here it is. In 1990, the Winston-Salem board of alderman floated a huge increase in city taxes…some say about 41%. That would be even larger than the increase approved nationally by Ronald Reagan in 1983. Joe King could not resist. I doubt if he really took the proposed increase seriously, but he could not let such an opportunity pass. It cried out for historical perspective. So in April, 1990, Lady Godiva, an 11th century near legend, arose from her grave and rode once more, this time on Fourth Street in Winston-Salem. A crowd estimated at 13,000 watched. As far as we know, Joe never revealed the identity of the rider. Some suggested that it should have been Mayor Martha Wood, but Joe said that her hair was too short. It was not his wife Deborah. But it was clearly a Joe King production. And it made news across the nation. The picture here is from a national news weekly magazine. Joe copied the horse’s bridle and saddle from John Collier’s 19th century painting of the Lady.



This recent interview with Deborah Coleman King gives fascinating insights into the saga of Joe “Vinciata” King.

A 1960s network TV interview with Joe. The interviewer may be a bit clueless, but it is a priceless look at our Joe King.

A somewhat incoherent 1980s interview with Joe is nevertheless worth a look.

Highlights of Joe’s 1975 movie “Somebody Moved My Mountain”.  Pay close attention to the credits to discover many well known locals who were never professional actors. The billboard guy is Dr. Frank Albright, a true scholar associated with Old Salem. And who’s airplane was that near the end and who do you think was flying it?

The full original release version of “Somebody Moved My Mountain”. This is not Hitchcock, or Fellini or even Woody Allen, but perhaps a blend of the three. Have fun!

7 thoughts on “Joe King & the Sultan of Kuwait…and a lot more…”

  1. I have a few things to add. Supposedly when Joe King painted the Queen’s portrait, she had chicken pox and you could see little dots on her forehead. A copy was at the Town Steak House at Thruway, I also remember a Music at Sunset concert at which Joe King pranked John Eule. I think it was the 4th of July & he put a sparkler behind the conductor. I took a picture of “Lady Godiva” and was close enough to tell she had on a body stocking.

  2. The EHK sculpture in Grace Court is of Barbara Smitherman, not Ackerman. Smitherman was a West End neighbor who raised the monies to build the gazebo in Grace Court. Good piece about two outsized local personalities. Thanks!

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