She was saved by a combination of several factors that would impel her to take action. Jesse L. Lasky's West Coast studio and Adolph Zukor's Eastern-based Famous Players company had recently merged as a new organization destined to dominate the American film industry -- Paramount Pictures Corporation. In order to establish the new company in the eyes of the public and theatrical exhibitors, Paramount's press agents were keenly interested in an enterprise that would publicize the studio. For their part, auto manufacturers, like the Kissel Kar Company, were seeking ways to promote their products. Work had recently begun on building the nation's first transcontinental highway, the Lincoln Highway, and advocates for funds needed to complete the project were favorable to the idea of a journey that would call attention to it. Finally, the 1910s was a time when the suffragette movement had become a major force in public life, encouraging women to break out of their traditional roles and achieve parity with men. All of these converging interests came together when Anita, seeking to overcome her low spirits, conceived the idea of driving a car across the continent entirely unaccompanied. It was reported that the proposed trip came about when Jesse L. Lasky remarked to Anita and other employees of his company that "it would be at least ten years before the Lincoln Highway from ocean to ocean would be in such shape that a lady could make the drive without difficulty." Anita took up the challenge with the result that Lasky offered to pay her expenses for an auto trip across the country. (7) Publicized as "The Paramount Girl," she was to stop at theatres in various cities for personal appearances during the course of her journey where she would talk about filmmaking. The Kissel company provided her with the car she would drive, a 42-six stock KisselKar equipped with Firestone tires. The Los Angeles Times wrote at the time: "There will be nobody with her at any time on the trip. She will have no mechanician, no chauffeur, no maid. Her only companions will be a rifle and a six shooter. If success crowns her efforts, she will have done one of the few feats that have not been done before." (8) Although women had been driving cars across the continent since the landmark journeys of Alice Huyler Ramsey in 1909 and Blanche Stuart Scott in 1910, Anita King, according to the records, was the first woman ever to have driven a car across the continent entirely unaccompanied.

A feature story in the San Francisco Chronicle of August 22, 1915, provided details of the planned journey:

  Coming to San Francisco to make her real start on the cross-country trip from the Panama Pacific International Exposition, Miss Anita King, the moving picture star, will arrive here on Thursday after driving alone in her KisselKar from Los Angeles. A few days later, she starts from the exposition grounds for a noteworthy overland trip, entirely alone, to New York City. Miss King's plan contemplates the breaking of several records. The unbroken run from Los Angeles constitutes a woman's record in itself. The later and longer journey is a severe one for a woman to undertake, and the proposed time, three weeks, would establish a record for a woman driver. Whether or not that schedule is adhered to, she will establish a record as the only woman to make the trip alone. She has been driving for seven years and says she is entirely capable of making her own repairs, camping alone in the desert if necessary, and protecting herself. Motorists who have driven the coast route between San Francisco and Los Angeles will admit that Miss King has nerve. Her schedule allows for less than eighteen hours, close to an average of thirty miles an hour, and this a steady run without pause longer than necessary for a quick meal. In order to avoid traffic and get up as much speed as possible, the young woman will leave Los Angeles at 6 P.M., as a result of which she expects to be at San Jose by 9:45 A.M. The plan contemplates a quick run to the exposition and the placing of the car in the KisselKar exhibit in the Palace of Transportation, there to remain until the start for the East on September 1st. In the meantime, Miss King will have equipped herself with San Francisco credentials supplementing those obtained in Los Angeles, the latter including a letter from the Mayor of the southern city to Mayor Mitchel of New York City. President W. L. Hughson of the Pacific KisselKar branch and others will meet her at San Jose and escort her a short distance toward the East, just as the Los Angeles motorists are escorting her a few miles toward San Francisco. (9)  

Copyright 2003 William M. Drew

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Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Endnotes

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