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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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.

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Earline graduated from RJRHS in 1930.

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

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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.

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707 22nd Street, Virginia Heights.

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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.

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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.

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

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The Joe King/Vinciata studio on Reynolda Road.

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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.

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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.

Brandywine

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Futrell

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.

Nixon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Read this book!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Click on images for full size

On this Memorial Day, we honor the dead of all the American wars. But some wars receive a lot more attention than others…especially, it seems, in our fair Twin City.

This is the story of a forgotten local soldier of a forgotten war.

If you go down to the courthouse square in Winston-Salem and look around carefully, you might spot an obscure memorial to “The Great War”, now known as World War I.

WWIMemorial

Our local World War I memorial is located on the courthouse square at the corner of Third and Liberty Streets. It is very difficult to photograph, because no matter which way you move, the view is blocked by a WALK/DON’T WALK sign, not to mention having a bright yellow fire hydrant right in front of it.

Of course, that doesn’t really matter, because you can see that no one pays any attention to it. The rusted flag pole hasn’t had a flag on it in decades. In fact, the county commissioners just sold the property that it stands on to private developers.

And the plaque that lists the names of the dead has gone pure green, untouched by human hands for who knows how long. It is difficult to read even after a judicious bit of Photoshopping.

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Here is what it says:

1917 – 1918 / IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF THE FORSYTH COUNTY MEN WHO MADE THE SUPREME SACRIFICE IN THE WORLD WAR

Clinton A. Anderson / William M. Bazemore / Jim Bennett / Clyde Bolling / Frank J. Brewer / Isaac L. Brown / Sam Chambers / James R. Cook / Horace B. Connelly / James Cottingham / Herbert Crighton / Samuel Crews / Germie Crutchfield / Wade R. Davis / John Sidney Doty / John G. B. Duvall / Addison Eddings / Ben C. Elliott / Ben C. Ellis / Will Farris / Bud Gentry / Rex Graham / William Theodore Gray / John W. Griffith / William Graham Harper / James Harris / Charles L. Hastings / Walter R. Hill / Alonzo Holly / James Hooper / Alonzo Howie / Clifton Irey / Clark Johnson / Clyde Dalton Johnson / William B. Johnson / Sid Vestal Kapp / Cecil F. King / Lendo S. Kinney / Charles Frederick Lane / Reid Alexander Lyons / William E.Macy / Ernest F. Martin / Joe Henry McDaniel / Asa McWhirter / Arthur Mickey / Ballard Miller / Ernest R. Morgan / Jesse O’Mara / Alonza G. Pack / Carl Clark Paff / Charles R. Pegg / William Pegram / Eugene Rachel / Grant Wellington Rector / Rudy M. Reid / John T. Ring / Paul E. Shore / Morris Lawson Slaughter / Walter P. Smith / Albert N. Spaugh / George W. Spears / Paul Evans Sprinkle / Robert G. Tate / Herbert S. Turrentine / Trossy Gorrell Wall / Ernest L. Wilkinson / Robert Caldwell Williamson / Walter R. Wilson / John Willis Young /

THIS MEMORIAL ERECTED MAY 30, 1921 BY THE WOMEN’S CLUB OF WINSTON-SALEM  AND THE CLYDE BOLLING POST N255 AMERICAN LEGION

Clyde Bolling, the first local man to die in the war, for whom the first local American Legion post was named, is listed. Here is an interesting newspaper article about him:

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Found this and the pic below in an unlikely place…1918-1919 report of the superintendent of Winston-Salem schools…first time I’ve ever seen a picture of Clyde Bolling…

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But at least one local man who died in the war is not on the list. We know this because I accidentally stumbled on a newspaper picture of him while looking for something else.

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Jacob Sosnik was a partner with Samuel Hyatt and Harry Jacobsen in The Hub, menswear, 120 East Fourth Street. He lived at 421 West Seventh Street. He was killed in action on September 25, 1918, just four days before his comrades in the Old Hickory Division (30th Infantry) broke the Hindenburg Line, and a little less than seven weeks before the armistice that ended The Great War.

RIP, Jacob. Now we know who you were.

……………………………….

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Henry Johnson, Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm

Henry Johnson did not die in the war, although he might as well have considering how he wound up. He was born in Charlottesville and died in New York, but he grew up on Sycamore Street near the railroad tracks in East Winston. His story is one of the most extraordinary in US military history. Read all about it here: https://northcarolinaroom.wordpress.com/?s=battle+of+henry+johnson

 

(As always, many of the pictures in this post can be enlarged by clicking on them. Some rare ones cannot. Give it a try.)

Listen as Maria Cole sings “So Help Me” from her 1954 album “Maria Cole”, created in colaboration with Billy Vaughn. The images are from this blog post.

 

As often, whilst looking for one thing I stumbled upon another, this time a picture on page 31 of Carter Cue and Lenwood Davis’s illustrated history Winston-Salem State University. I had seen the picture before many times…it even appears in one of the Time-Life books on World War II. I had always assumed that the subject, who is identified as a 1939 graduate of Winston-Salem Teachers College, was not a local person. But this time, for some reason, I decided to do a little digging. Here is the extraordinary story that emerged.

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Spurgeon Neal Ellington was born October 17, 1919 to James A. and Erma W. Ellington. His father operated a grocery business out of their home  at 727 East Seventh Street in Winston-Salem.

Spurgeon graduated from Atkins High School and Winston-Salem Teachers College, finishing in 1939. According to the 1940 US Census, he was an elementary school teacher at a private school for black children.

In 1941, he registered for the draft in Winston-Salem and gave his employer as J.T. Daniels in Rocky Point, NC. John Daniel and his wife Leona operated for many years the Pender County Training School, one of the many schools for black children built with assistance from the Rosenwald Foundation. In the 1950s, PCTS was sending 25% of its graduates to college, a record unmatched by all but a few elite white high schools in the state. The Daniels’  papers are on deposit at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington.

In April, 1942, Spurgeon enlisted in the US Army at Fort Bragg and requested assignment to the Tuskegee pilot training program. On May 28, 1943, he won his wings as a part of class 43-E-SE and was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group. That summer, the 332nd moved to Michigan for advanced combat training.

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The “Big Four”. These guys considered themselves to be the best pilots in the 332nd Fighter Wing. Left to right, Captain William R. Thompson, Lieutenant James L. Johnson, Captain Dudley W. Stevenson and Lieutenant Spurgeon N. Ellington.

Meanwhile, Tuskegee’s first graduates, the 99th Fighter Squadron, were successfully flying combat missions in North Africa, the Mediterranean and Italy. But the old racist mentality was still around. One general, who I will not bother to name here, wrote a detailed critique of their work, stating that they were subpar and should be relegated to coastal patrol duties. It took an investigation by none other than General Hap Arnold himself, the commandant of the US Eighth Air Force, to reverse that nonsense.

So by the time that the 332nd, began preparing for deployment overseas in December of 1943, the issue had been settled. On January 3, 1944, the 332nd departed Hampton Roads for Sicily. Ironically, Spurgeon’s 100th Squadron was transported on HR-810, the SS John Motley Morehead, named for a former governor of North Carolina who had been a major slave owner and leading secessionist.

On February 1-3, 1944 the 332nd disembarked at Bari, Taranto and Naples, Italy. In mid-February, the 100th Fighter Squadron flew its first combat missions. Soon thereafter, they were assigned to the 15th Air Force.

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Left to right, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, commander of the 332nd Fighter Wing, Lieutenant Spurgeon N. Ellington, Spurgeon’s crew chief and a visiting VIP from the 306th Fighter Squadron pose in front of Lollipoop II, somewhere in Italy, 1944. Davis would go on to become the first black general in the US Air Force.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, one of their number, Lieutenant Leonard Jackson, crash landed in no-man’s land. Much to the joy of his comrades, he reappeared the next day herding two German POWs at pistol point.

The next day, the 332nd began flying hundreds of missions combining long range bomber escort sorties and short range strafing sorties against enemy targets in Italy, Germany, Austria and elsewhere. On July 9, they flew an escort mission protecting B-24s attacking the massive oil refinery at Ploesti, Rumania, one of the most important bombing missions of the war. That raid was led by Major Paul Tibbets and his bombardier, Tom Ferebee, of Davie County, NC. Tibbets and Ferebee would later be the pilot/bombardier combination on the Enola Gay which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

 

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A series of heritage paintings, based on combat action reports, were created to commemorate the service of the Tuskegee Airmen. This one shows Lieutenant Spurgeon Ellington flying his Lollipoop II in support of a heavy bomber raid over Europe.

After that, the 332nd almost daily flew important mission after important mission. Things began seriously cranking up in October. On the 7th, they escorted bombers from the 5th Bombardment Wing to an oil refinery in Vienna, Austria. On the way, to the target area, three P-51 Mustang pilots disappeared.

“I was flying between layers of overcast,” 1st Lt. Spurgeon N. Ellington wrote in a military report. “Flight Officer Woods was flying my wing. I gave the signal for more power to pull up over the overcast and the number three man shot under me. At this instant my motor cut out as I pulled up to keep from running over the number three man, causing me to flip into a spin in the overcast. This is the last I saw of Flight Officer Woods.”

About 20 minutes later, 2nd Lt. Roosevelt Stiger crashed into the Adriatic Sea after reporting mechanical trouble. Lt. Robert H. Wiggins was forced to crash-land after his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire.

On October 11-12, they strafed railroad and river traffic along the Danube River from Budapest to Bratislava, destroying 17 enemy aircraft on the ground and shooting down seven Messerschmitt 109s. For his heroic actions on those days, Lt. Spurgeon Ellington was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In his book, The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed A Nation, Charles E. Francis wrote:

“One of the most unforgettable characters I have ever met was Lieutenant Spurgeon Ellington. If there was ever a proud man, it was Ellington. He was not only proud of being a pilot, but proud in general. To him, there was only one person – Ellington. He figured he could out-talk and out-smart anyone. Needless to say, he also pictured himself as God’s gift to women.”

Francis tells the story of how, after receiving his wings, Spurgeon flew home for a visit and buzzed Main Street in the Twin City, for which he was later court martialed and fined back at Tuskeegee, then immediately forgiven.

“Perhaps it was Ellington’s showmanship and ego that largely accounted for his success in combat. He could not conceive of any German pilot capable of shooting him down.”

And none did, which earned him an Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and the nation’s third highest valor medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross.

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Another of the heritage paintings featuring Lieutenant Spurgeon Ellington and Lollipoop II.

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Maria Antoinette Hawkins’ aunt, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, founded the Palmer memorial Institute in Sedalia, NC in 1902, when she was just 19 years old. Here we see her in her wedding gown in 1912.

As to the God’s gift to women part, Spurgeon, a tall, good looking and witty lady’s man, met, during his training at Tuskeegee, a dazzling jazz singer with the Benny Carter band named Maria Antoinette Hawkins. She was from an upscale Boston family and the niece of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, the founder of the famous Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, NC, from which Maria had graduated. They were married in 1943. He called her his “Lollipoop”, which was painted on his P-51C Mustang, along with an image of her in a hot red dress.

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Almost every manufacturer of plastic scale models has included the decals to reproduce Spurgeon Ellington’s Lollipoop II. This is the best view, in which you can see Maria Hawkins Ellington right next to the cockpit, as close as possible to Spurgeon’s heart and mind.

Maria continued her career while Spurgeon was off flying in Europe, first with the Count Basie Orchestra, then with Duke Ellington’s band. When the war ended in August, 1945, Spurgeon was assigned as an instructor at a training base in Georgia. Then one day he was riding in the back seat with one of his fellow pilots. The plane crashed. A simple pilot’s mistake accomplished what no German pilot could. Spurgeon’s body came home on a train and was buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Winston-Salem.

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One might think that a man of such accomplishment would rate a front page story in his hometown newspaper. Not so. Both the Winston-Salem Journal and the Twin City Sentinel relegated him to the “Doings of Colored People” box in the back of the paper, set in tiny agate type.

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Duke Ellington with his three female singers, ca 1945. Left to right, Joya Sherrill, Kay Davis, Maria Hawkins Ellington

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A higher resolution shot showing the same three dazzling singers, clockwise from upper right, Joya Sherrill, Kay Davis, Maria Hawkins Ellington. Maria had an exotic look and a deep, earthy voice that can easily be distinguished on any of the mid 1940s recordings.

Two years after Spurgeon’s death, while performing solo at the Cafe Zanzibar on Broadway across from the Brill Building in New York city, Maria met fellow performer Nat King Cole. On March 28, 1948, Maria and Nat married at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, with the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. officiating. Their wedding cake had five tiers and the couple honeymooned in Mexico City and Acapulco.

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Cafe Zanzibar, on Broadway, as featured in Life Magazine.

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Cafe Zanzibar, interior, ca 1946.

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The wedding of Maria Hawkins Ellington and Nat King Cole, 1948, at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in foreground with his back to the camera.

“The bride wore a blue off-shoulder satin gown and carried a bouquet of white roses … About three thousand people attended the church ceremony … Sarah Vaughan, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and a great number of other celebrities attended.”
—Marianne Ruuth, Nat King Cole. 1992.

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Maria in “Blue Ice” with Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and his wife, the famous jazz musician Hazel Scott.

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The blue gown was designed by the legendary New York designer Zelda Wynn Valdes,  known for creating dresses for Sarah Vaughn, Dorothy Dandridge, Ella Fitzgerald, Mae West and many others, and later hired by Hugh Hefner to design the original Playboy Bunny costume and by Arthur Mitchell to design outfits for the Dance Theater of Harlem. She named Maria’s dress “Blue Ice”. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, who disapproved of her niece marrying a “mere musician”, nevertheless paid for the gown…$700, the equivalent of about $7,000 today.

Maria and Nat had a dream marriage. On more than one occasion, they performed as a duet. They were perfect complements for each other. As she once said, “He had what I needed, and I had what he needed.” But once again, she had to settle for an all too brief period of happiness.

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After a brief hiatus from singing, Maria collaborated with her friend Billy Vaughn on a “comeback” album in 1954

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Maria and her friends celebrated her return to the limelight with a big show at the legendary Ciro’s on Sunset Strip in 1954

Nat died in Santa Monica seventeen years later of lung cancer. His funeral was one of the most impressive in US history. As Maria put it:

“We wanted to bury him with the dignity in which he lived.”
—Louie Robinson. “The Life and Death of Nat King Cole.” Ebony. April 1965

Present at his funeral, among many others: Danny Kaye, Frank Sinatra, George Burns, Jack Benny, George Jessel, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Rosemary Clooney, Jose Ferrer, Billy Daniels, Peter Lawford, Frankie Laine, Vic Damone, Danny Thomas, Eddie (Rochester) Anderson (who had introduced the couple), Edie Adams, etc.

Maria died of cancer in Boca Raton, Florida on July 10, 2012. One of their daughters was Carol “Cookie” Cole, the daughter of Maria’s sister who was adopted in 1949 after her mother died of TB. She had a long career as an actress on stage, in film and on TV, then , in the 1990s, produced a number of award winning albums based on her adopted father’s work. The other daughter is a pretty decent singer-songwriter-actress, a nine time Grammy winner, known as Natalie Cole, who looks just like her momma. Of course, you knew that was coming right from the start, didn’t you? Her album in which she performed many of her father’s standards, “Unforgettable…With Love”, sold seven million copies.

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Nat and Maria with their daughters, Carol “Cookie” Cole (right) and Natalie Cole

…………………………….

TShirt

Oh yeah, almost forgot. You can get a T-shirt about this, featuring Lt. Spurgeon Ellington. I do not like clothing that has pictures or writing on it, but in this case, I could not help myself. Got mine from:

Floozees Doozees down in Florida…18.99, free shipping…takes about ten days…

http://www.floozeesdoozees.com/product/tuskegee-airmen-american-heroes-t-shirt/

 

Here is an extraordinary story, a sequence of incredible coincidences spanning more than half a century, about one Tuskeegee airman and one of the bomber pilots that he protected.

It must be animal week…Monday was spiders…today it is Monkees tearing up the Triad.

Everybody knows who the Monkees were…a made for TV pop group who did covers of other people’s songs and were suspected of not being able to play their instruments…but enormously popular with the teenyboppers.

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The Monkees were not very happy with that description, so engaged in a battle with their handlers to be allowed to write and perform their own songs…at some point they sort of won and produced a number of original hits. But they still suffered the sting of being disrespected as instrumental players…the word was that they were merely a studio group, unable to perform live.

So in late 1966, they decided to disprove their critics by going on the road. That decision would lead them to perform live twice in the Piedmont Triad in a period of barely six months, with the second of those performances becoming one of the most bizarre couplings of an opening band and the headliner in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Phase one began in December, 1966…starting with the Auditorium Arena in Denver and ending at the Cow Palace in San Francisco…twelve venues in 27 days…

December 26: Auditorium Arena, Denver, Colorado
December 27: Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, Tennessee
December 28: Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky
December 29: Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
December 30: Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
December 31: Cincinnati Gardens, Cincinnati, Ohio
January 1: Municipal Auditorium, Nashville,  Tennessee
January 2: Civic Center Arena, Tulsa, Oklahoma
January 14: Olympia Stadium, Detroit, Michigan
January 15: Public Hall, Cleveland, Ohio
January 21: Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix, Arizona
January 22: Cow Palace, San Francisco, California

And so, on December 29 the Monkees were installed in their rooms at the Robert E. Lee Hotel in downtown Winston-Salem, awaiting an interview with a local reporter. Normally, the Journal would have dispatched their superstar, Roy Thompson, but they were not taking the Monkees seriously, so sent in the second string, Luix Overbea. Luix certainly rose to the occasion.

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Click for full size

A bit later, Rom Weatherman of the Sentinel arrived with one of the Monkees’ biggest local fans in tow.

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Click for full size

The next day, Luix told us what happened at the Coliseum.

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Part 1, click for full size

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Part 2, click for full size

As I have discovered, some who were present at the Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem that night are a bit confused as to which bands they saw besides the Monkees. Some are firmly convinced that they also saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Unfortunately, they did not. There were three warmup acts, in order:

JewelAkins  Jewel Akens…”Let me tell you ’bout the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees, and the moon up above and a thing called love.” That was a #3 hit in 1965. Jewel never had another hit.

BobbyHart02Bobby Hart was 2nd. he and his partner Tommy Boyce wrote the Monkees’ first hit, “Last Train to Clarkeville” and had a middling performance career.

Apollas  The Apollas were a bright, shiny girl group from California who never had any real hits, but remained on the scene for a number of years. Note that at this later date, they were performing with Mason Williams, a sort of comic genius.

That was it…three acts and then the Monkees. For those who still have doubts, here is what the Jimi Hendrix Experience was up to that same day:

On December 29, 1966, The Jimi Hendrix Experience arrived at “BBC Lime Grove Studios/Area C”, Lime Grove, London W12 at about 9:30 AM and spent the morning rehearsing. They remained there all day and that night, sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 PM, they performed live one song, “Hey Joe” (3:46), on “Top of the Pops” on BBC1.

The Breakaways (Gloria George, Barbara Moore and Margaret Stredder) were used, offstage, for additional background vocals. The Experience were introduced by DJ Simon Dee. The BBC paid the Experience £78.75 for the performance.

The playlist for the entire show:

Dave Dee & Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich – Save Me [Repeat Performance]
Wayne Fontana – Pamela Pamela [Performance]
Tom Jones – Green Green Grass Of Home [Repeat Performance]
The Who – Happy Jack [Disc]
The Supremes – You Keep Me Hangin’ On [Promo Video]
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Hey Joe [Performance]
Cream – I Feel Free [Repeat Performance]
The Monkees – I’m A Believer [Promo Video]

There is no video from that performance, and no “official” photographs, but Hendrix experts are 90 something percent sure that the photos below were taken at Lime Grove on December 29, 1966. The BBC forbade photography during the on air performance, so all were taken during rehearsal or rehearsal breaks.

TOTP122966 Rehearsal MadMadWorld

 

Phase two began on June 30, 1967 at the Empire Pool at Wembley in London and ended 59 days later at The Coliseum in Spokane, Washington…34 performances at 28 venues in 59 days.

June 30: Empire Pool, Wembley, London, England
July 1: Empire Pool, Wembley, London, England (2 shows)
July 2: Empire Pool, Wembley, London, England (2 shows)
July 8: The Coliseum, Jacksonville, Florida *
July 9: Convention Hall, Miami Beach, Florida *
July 11: The Coliseum, Charlotte, North Carolina *
July 12: Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina *
July 14: Forest Hills Stadium, New York, New York *
July 15: Forest Hills Stadium, New York, New York *
July 16: Forest Hills Stadium, New York, New York *
July 20: Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, New York
July 21: Civic Center, Baltimore, Maryland
July 22: Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
July 23: Convention Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
July 27: War Memorial, Rochester, New York
July 28: Cincinnati Gardens, Cincinnati, Ohio
July 30: Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois
August 4: St. Paul Auditorium Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
August 5: Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri
August 6: Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Des Moines, Iowa
August 9: Memorial Auditorium, Dallas, Texas
August 10: Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, Texas
August 11: State Fair Coliseum, Shreveport, Louisiana
August 12: Municipal Auditorium, Mobile, Alabama
August 13: Olympia Stadium, Detroit, Michigan
August 17: Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, Tennessee
August 18: Assembly Center Arena, Tulsa, Oklahoma
August 19: Coliseum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
August 20: Denver Coliseum, Denver, Colorado
August 25: Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle, Washington
August 26: Memorial Coliseum, Portland, Oregon
August 27: The Coliseum, Spokane, Washington

* = with The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Earlier in 1967, while attending a party in London with Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Eric Clapton, Monkee Peter Nesmith heard a tape that John Lennon had of Jimi Hendrix playing his guitar. At that time, Hendrix was already a star in Great Britain, but had little traction in the USA.

Nesmith and the other Monkees thought they had found the ideal symbiotic relationship. Hendrix needed exposure in the US…they needed a connection with the real thing to give them credence as musicians. Their tour in December-January 1966-67 had produced a huge number one selling song, “I’m A Believer”.  So it was arranged that Hendrix would open for the Monkees during the US phase of their tour.

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Jimi Hendrix and Peter Tork, Miami, July, 1967

That began in Jacksonville on July 8. By then, the Monkees were such huge Hendrix fans that they showed up early to watch Hendrix perform. Nesmith described what it was like touring with Hendrix offstage in the southern part of the tour:

“We would typically go in and take over a wing of a hotel. The police would come and block off the wing, and generally stand guard down the hallway… because we would always attract a large number of people to the hotel. The hallway was lined with probably five or six on either side of these sterotypical Southern police with big beer belly, and different color blue shirts, and a very Southern kind of redneck attitude. I’d just come out of my room, guess it was one or two in the morning. A door opened and there was this kind of eerie blue-red light that came in from it because of the exit sign over it. Hendrix appeared in silhouette, with this light in back of him, and of course his hair was out to here, and he had on what has become his famous ribbon shirt. And he took a step forward, and it was like it was choreographed. Noel and Mitch both came up on either side of him, and they made the perfect trio. It looked like the cover of Axis. None of these guys was very big, and all those cops were like 6’5”, and Hendrix just started walking down the hall with these pinwheels in his eyes. And to see him walk under the nose of these cops, and these guys lookin’ at him going by was something to see. Jimi was in absolute control. He had such a command of himself.”

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They drew huge crowds, 13,000 in Charlotte, then moved on to Greensboro, where they stayed at the legendary Oaks Motel. There Mickey Dolenz snapped a picture of Hendrix with a couple of his band mates. They drew a standing room only crowd that night.

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Oaks Motel, Greensboro, July 12, 1967

But right from the first, there was a problem. As Mickey put it “…Jimi would amble out onto the stage, fire up the amps and break into ‘Purple Haze,’ and the kids in the audience would instantly drown him out with, ‘We want The Monkees, we want The Monkees.’ ”

So the perfect symbiotic relationship was not so perfect. There were two other warmup acts. As the most important act, The Jimi Hendrix Experience had been placed third, just before the Monkees. But they had come to see that position as the position of death, because by then the Monkees’ teeny bopper fans were out of patience and just wanted to see their idols. So in Greensboro, an experiment was tried. Hendrix went on first. There was a significant improvement in audience reaction. One Experience member said that he even thought the crowd might rush the stage.

But it was too late to save the lineup. After just six performances, the last three at Forest Hills, the Monkees and the Jimi Hendrix Experience came to a reluctant but amicable parting of the ways. There have been many rumors tossed about since then…but zero documentation as to what really happened. And an Australian music critic who was traveling with the bands added fuel to the fire by publishing what she thought was a satirical item, claiming that the Experience was fired because of complaints from the DAR. Unfortunately, her satire went right over many heads and ended up being published nationwide as true. Whatever really happened, the great experiment was over. Just a few months later, the Jimi Hendrix Experience would become the star band, with a budding Pink Floyd as their opening act. Imagine that.

 

Clicking on some images will produce larger size

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This image is probably the best known still from any Hollywood film. It features Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock, after climbing a tall building in Los Angeles. Harold Lloyd was a comic actor. Did he actually climb the building? Of course not. But who did?

In the third week of January, 1919, a notice appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal. Two days later, a corresponding ad appeared on the theater page. The next day, a story appeared in the Journal.

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It was the second time that Bill Strother had climbed the O’Hanlon Building within a year. Shortly after the building was completed in November, 1915, another man, George Gibson Polley, billing himself as The Human Fly, had attempted to climb the building and failed. Dr. Thomas Davis was in his office when he heard a call for help. He opened the window and pulled the exhausted Polley to safety.

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George Gibson Polley climbing the Burwell Building in Knoxville, April, 1918

Unfortunately, either no one thought to take any pictures of these adventures, or the pictures are still hiding in someone’s basement or attic. We have none.

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But who was Bill Strother and how did he become The Human Spider?

Bill Strother was born in Wayne County, NC around 1897. After completing school, he worked for a time as a clerk in a store, then got into the real estate business. In 1915-16, he had set up a real estate auction at the courthouse in Kinston.

He had ordered flyers to promote the sale, but they were running late. On the day before the sale, he went into a lunchroom and got into a conversation with the man sitting on the next stool. He jokingly said to the gentleman “If those flyers don’t arrive on the morning train, I guess I’ll have to climb the courthouse to draw a crowd.”

The next morning at breakfast he started reading the local newspaper. On the front page was an item headlined “Bill Strother Will Climb The Lenoir County Couthouse Today At 2 PM”. He hadn’t realized that he was talking to the editor of the Kinston Free Press.

Strother stopped by the railroad station. His flyers had not come, so he headed for the courthouse. As he approached, he heard an increasing rumble from that direction. As he rounded the corner, he saw a huge crowd, estimated at 5,000 people, waiting to watch him climb the courthouse.

As a boy he had had a reputation as a good tree climber, but he had never climbed a building. He had no choice. Wearing a suit and a straw boater, he climbed the building, then sold about $35,000 (close to $900,000 in 2014 value) in real estate, thus beginning a new way of promoting real estate auctions.

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Bill Strother’s first conquest…Lenoir County Courthouse, Kinston, NC

Eventually, he stopped selling real estate and went into the Human Spider business. Sometimes he climbed buildings for a set fee to promote the business in the building. But he came up with a better way of making money. He made films of some of his climbs, then partnered with a local theater to climb a nearby building, then talk about his film at the theater. Business boomed.

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Back of Bill Strothers’ business card

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Bill Strother in New Orleans, 4-22-1922…he climbed the Interstate Bank, the Macheca Building & the Hibernia Bank
—The Historic New Orleans Collection, Louisiana Digital Library

On September 7, 1922, he had four cameras filming his climb of the International Bank building in Los Angeles. The famous silent screen comic actor Harold Lloyd happened to walk by. Lloyd started talking to Strother, and the next year released “Safety Last” with Strother co-starring as Lloyd’s roommate. Strother’s International Bank footage became the core of the film. It was Strother’s only Hollywood role.

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In 1930, he had a bad fall. While recuperating, he fell in love with one of his nurses, a vivacious older woman from Tennessee. For a time they lived in San Francisco, then acquired a large house in Petersburg, Virginia, which they turned into a home for military veterans. She managed Strother House and he was the cook. Eventually the business evolved into a well known tourist court.

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Strother House, Petersburg, Virginia

In 1942, Richmond’s leading department store, Miller & Rhoads, held auditions for the role of their store Santa Claus. Bill Strother got the job. He and the store’s management took the job seriously. They had Max Factor design his makeup. And he developed a routine  in which he would emerge from a chimney, take children onto his lap, and, using a concealed throat-mike on an assistant who eavesdropped on the children in line, would greet the little ones by name, surprising them with his knowledge of their Christmas wishes. Crowds flocked to the store every year.

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Strother became one of the most famous and best paid department store Santa’s in the nation. He was still cooking at Strother House and playing Santa when he was killed in an automobile accident in 1960.

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Jug Reynolds atop the Lansburgh Furniture Store, 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC  1917

—Shorpy.com

Before the advent of tall commercial structures in the late 19th century, the tallest building in almost every town was the county courthouse or a church, with most of the height being a spire or bell tower. It was just a matter of time before someone started climbing the new skyscrapers.

Several people became famous building climbers between around 1905 and the 1930s. Most of them adopted the moniker “The Human Fly”, while Bill Strother chose “The Human Spider”, which, if you think about it, makes far more sense. Flies are known for flying around and annoying people; it is spiders who perform monumental climbing feats every day.

A few of the best known using the “Human Fly” nickname:

Harry Gardiner (active 1905–ça 1923)
George Polley (active 1910–1920)
Henry Roland (active 1924-1937)
John Ciampa (active 1942–1952)
George Willig, who climbed New York City’s World Trade Center in 1977.

As often happens, while looking for something else, in the January, 1919 microfilm, I found several more interesting things, including the Human Spider’s second visit to the Twin City when he climbed the O’Hanlon Building wearing a suit and hat and spun around on top of the flag pole…more about which in a later post. Here is another thing that I found on the editorial page of the Winston-Salem Journal. Notice anything that sounds familiar? Click the pic for full size.

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On June 22, 1930, the Winston-Salem Journal published a special section on local aviation, pointing out that the Twin City was one of the leading places in the South in this exciting new field. The article highlighted the three year old Miller Field (later Smith Reynolds Airport), which had been built specifically for the visit of Charles Lindbergh in 1927. It also chronicled the startup of the passenger service of Reynolds Aviation (later Camel City Flying Service, and, eventually, Piedmont Airlines) and the adventures of our own flying wunderkind, the then 18 year old Smith Reynolds.

Our collection includes an original copy of the first page of that section. Unfortunately, it had been stored folded, so when later unfolded, had separated into several different pieces, yellowed, fragile and crumbling. It was not much trouble to fit the pieces together to make a whole, except that the edges did not quite match up, and the upper left portion was missing.

For some, that is not a problem, because we have the whole page on microfilm. But there are several photographs on the page. Anyone who knows about microfilm knows that it is shot on high contrast film. That enhances the hard black and white text on the page, but plays havoc with the halftone photo images.

In the case of this page, most of the halftones were not particularly well done, so on microfilm they come out as muddy blurs. But pictures are at least as important as words. What to do?

I scanned the seven individual pieces at high resolution, then, using Photoshop, straightened and pieced them together to partially replicate the page. The result can be seen below. Fortunately, the missing piece has only one photograph, which reproduces fairly well from microfilm. When I have the time, I will add that to the image to give a mostly complete image of the page. Some of the items are continued on later pages of the paper. Since that is all text, it can all be retrieved via microfilm.

As always, click on the image to see it full size.

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