Henderson man who worked with Prince helps fans celebrate musician’s legacy
By Patricia Bruschette
When famous Minnesota musician Prince died on April 21, 2016, fans from far and wide were grief-stricken. To express their loyalty and support for the legendary artist, and grieve, some fans traveled to Paisley Park, Prince’s home and recording studio in Chanhassen. Other fans paid their respects off the beatened path. They drove to Henderson, Minnesota, a small community of 886 people located about an hour west of the Twin Cities.
Why Henderson? Well, Henderson is the location of one memorable and iconic scene in Prince’s hit movie, Purple Rain. And for Prince faithful, that was, and still is, reason enough to make a trip to Henderson.
Henderson is also home to Joel King, a former Hollywood cameraman who worked with Prince. King has been instrumental in creating a home for fans to celebrate Prince and share memories of the musical icon when they visit Henderson.
Joel was born and raised in Lakeville, a 40-mile drive from Henderson. The distance between these two cities isn’t far, but the path that Joel took to get from one to the other is a fascinating one.
After graduating from Lakeville High School in 1961, Joel headed west to California. Beach songs were the rage and he wanted to be part of the action. According to Joel, he bought a surfboard at a garage sale, propped it in his 1950 Mercury convertible and made his way to the beach to find girls. When anyone asked why he wasn’t surfing, he simply explained, “The waves aren’t good.”
He landed a job as a parking attendant and rented a guest house near Hollywood Boulevard and Laurel Canyon. One Saturday night, he went to the local liquor store, dressed for the beach scene. He encountered a group of men, dressed in navy-blue blazers. One of them made a gesture Joel believed questioned his manhood and, in Joel’s words, “I decked him.” The man flew against a liquor display and sprawled on the floor. Everyone raced out, and Joel made it to the parking lot where he worked. “I grabbed an iron bar kept on hand to fend off thieves, and followed them. When they left, I circled the block and went home.”
The next week Joel returned to the liquor store to pay for damages caused by the fight. “The manager asked if I knew who I was fighting with. I had no idea what he was talking about, and he showed me the front page of the LA Times.”
The headline read, “Fighting Irish Have Scrimmage on Sunset Strip.”
“You must not read the paper,” he said, then asked Joel if he still wanted to get into the movie business. Joel was incredulous. “How is this going to get me into the movie business?”
The manager explained. Notre Dame was seeking an injunction against 20th Century Fox, prohibiting the release of the 1965 film, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! In the movie, the Notre Dame football team was portrayed as drinking and brawling. The lawsuit claimed the film maligned the team and sought to prohibit its release.
The manager counseled Joel to call 20th Century Fox and ask for their head attorney. He was further advised not to give them his name and to say, ‘I’m the kid that got in a fight with the Notre Dame football team.’
So he called. “It was 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon,” Joel said, “and I didn’t expect to get a call back. Five minutes later, the attorney called.”
“Who are you and what do you want?” the attorney demanded. I wanted a job as a cameraman, Joel recalled, but I knew that wasn’t possible. He told the attorney, “John Wayne started in the mailroom, and I thought that I could start in the mailroom too.”
Then he told the attorney that he wanted a contract and that he wanted to have the Los Angeles Times there as well.
“They had a contract for me, and I got a job in the mailroom,” said Joel.
Those who worked in the mailroom at 20th Century Fox were all men. Next door was the script department and all the employees were women. At 10 a.m. each day, a snack cart pulled up and employees of the two departments gathered for a break. Joanne Metzler was part of the script department who shared those snack breaks. Joel and Joanne got to know each other and began dating. During this time Joel did not give up his dream of photography and took night classes at the Culver City High School. “One assignment was to photograph the dome of the auditorium of the high school. My photograph was on the front-page of the student handbook,” he said with pride.
Joel then applied for a photography class at UCLA. “In order to be accepted, you had to have a portfolio of photographs.” Joel explained. “I used the photographs I had taken at night class.” The instructor’s response was disappointing, Joel recounted. “He told me that he could not enter me into the beginning photography class, adding that Joel’s work made him eligible for the advanced class!” While Joel protested that he wasn’t ready, he ultimately registered.
Six months later, Joel and Joanne left for a weekend in Las Vegas and were married. The following Tuesday morning, Joanne’s father, Roy Mezler, the head of personnel called him into his offices in the Executive Building at 20th Century Fox.
While Joel marveled at the plush office, Roy Mezler got to the point. “Sit down son,” he said. “I’m sure you don’t want to be a mail boy the rest of your life. What do you want to do?”
“I want to be a cameraman,” King promptly replied.
“I can’t do it. It is impossible,” Mezler responded. There were 29 on the list to enter the program. Mezler offered him the job as an assistant film editor. In this role he would be working in a small windowless room all day. Joel declined.
“Mezler leaned back in his chair,” King recounted, paused and said, “You start camera tomorrow.”
Joel became a trainee, learning the cameras and equipment on sets filming Batman, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants and other sets assigned by production.
The marriage did not work out well and when the two separated, Joel quit 20th Century Fox. He was a member of the International Photographers Guild, so he had the opportunity to go to Universal Studios. He continued his work on television programs including Marcus Welby and Ironside. After the training program he was assigned to work with Steven Spielberg on the film
Duel. The film was highly acclaimed, and landed Spielberg the film Jaws. As Joel explained, “I started at the top and worked my way down!”
Joel worked on Columbo and McLeod for a season of each. He worked with stars Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster. Lawrence Olivier, John Travolta, Martin Scorsese, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Lemmon, Dennis Hopper, and Jeff Bridges.
With success, Joel moved far beyond the 1950 Pontiac he had been driving. He now drove a Porsche speedster and then a Mercedes. However, with success came pitfalls. He was deep into drugs and alcohol. He knew he needed to get clean. So he returned to Minnesota.
“I acquired a major account with the McDonald’s Corporation to set up their commercials,” Joel explained. He had a contract to shoot over 100 McDonald’s commercials. But things were about to sour. At a shooting session back in California, he encountered a drug dealer from his earlier days and walked away with crack in his pocket. “I smoked over the weekend and when the shoot was to begin on Monday morning, I was so high I couldn’t function. I was an hour late on the set. I couldn’t work. I walked out the stage door and went home. I lost the contract.”
He returned to Minnesota and started treatment. At the same time, Prince needed a cameraman and Joel’s reputation as a cinematographer was well known. The producer, Peter McDonald, had checked. Joel recalled McDonald sayin, “You worked for Barbra Streisand. I called her for a reference. She said you’re brilliant.”
Prince’s concern was if he was clean.
Joel was hired as a cameraman on Graffiti Bridge, a sequel to Purple Rain. Prince would keep a close eye on Joel, asking him daily how he was doing and mindful of his battle with sobriety. One day while Joel was working he backed off a stage and fell. “Prince looked down at me and asked ‘what happened?’ recalled Joel. “My response? ‘Sobriety is hell.’” Prince reportedly laughed all the way home, and the next day was still laughing, Joel recalled.
Joel continued filming Minnesota films including Mighty Ducks, Mighty Ducks II for Disney and Grumpier Old Men for Warner Bros., as well as Feeling Minnesota and Iron Will, among others.
Joel next moved to Jordan, Minnesota, to open up a photo studio. He lived in an apartment in an old brewery, and for five years photographed weddings. The building developed a mold problem, and one night he told his friend, “Let’s drive to Henderson and look at the town.”
They were taking in the sights when Doug Thomas, Henderson’s historian, who did much to maintain the integrity of the historic features of the city, brought them to a building he had renovated. When asked if there were apartments, showed them units across the street. “We rented them,” Joel said, “and set up a photo studio in the lower level. I continued shooting weddings for 5 or 6 years.”
After Prince died in 2016, fans were immediately attracted to Henderson, where an important scene from Purple Rain was filmed. In the scene at the Minnesota River, east of Henderson, a young female singer sought help with her career. Prince refused. He said she must pass initiation, purifying herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. The young singer (Apollonia) stripped and jumped in the water. Prince’s memorable response? “That ain’t Lake Minnetonka!”
Prince fans come to Henderson to see where the scene was filmed.
“The city administrator asked if I would be a tour guide,” Joel recalled. “Fans wanted to fund a bench to honor Prince and $3,000 was raised. “It was intended to be near the river, but concern for vandalism resulted in the granite memorial bench on Main Street.”
The memorial grew. “We added a boulder with a plaque honoring those who donated the bench, and purple flowers,” Joel said proudly.
“In year two, I thought, “Wow, a mural would be great!”
So plan started to make a mural. The Henderson Historical Society approved a mural that would include the “Little Red Corvette,” which also conveniently cross-promoted the annual Henderson Classic Car Roll.
The mural was created by Moisse Sorrell, which included the First Avenue sign, and a purple sky. Money was raised on Facebook, and donations of $100 were noted on a plaque... $10,000 was raised quickly.
Later, Joel and Henderson fellow resident, Kent Thostenson, agreed to pursue the commissioning of a statue that would cost $40,000. After $7,000 was raised, the Covid 19 pandemic hit and donations ceased. A delegation met with the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation and received a $20,000 grant. Another $10,000 was raised and donations ceased. The foundation agreed to an additional $3,000, and the $40,000 for the statue was in hand.
In 2021 it was necessary to move the memorial from Main Street. It found a new home in a local gift and craft shop, The Heart of Henderson. The owner, Lisa Von Lehe enthusiastically opens her doors for Prince fans, and Joel continues to enhance the memorial. He also greets guests, takes photographs, and shares stories. A new mural will be unveiled on June 4, 2022, when community and visitors celebrate Prince’s birthday.
It promises to be a great party!