More on the fascinating, fabulous life of La Porte County native Anita King

 

Anita King poses in front of the Kissel Kar that she drove coast to coast.

Editor’s note: Last month WNLP’s Bob Wellinski brought you the story of how student Kayla Vasilko came to learn about Anita King and created an exhibit about her. Below, La Porte County Historian gives us more details on King’s fascinating life. The King exhibit is on display now through July at the La Porte County Historical Society Museum. It includes movie posters, photos, films, and even an authentic 1915 Kissel Kar. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Anita King was born Anna Keppen in Michigan City, Indiana, on Aug. 14, 1884. She was the 7th of 9 children born to Herman and Matilda Jipp Keppen, who had emigrated from Germany in 1872. After trying to make a living for his large family on their sand farm near the Indiana Dunes, her

La Porte County Historian Bruce Johnson

father committed suicide when Anna was 12. Two years later, her mother died of pulmonary tuberculosis. Tragically, Anna and her siblings had become impoverished orphans.

Anna and her sisters worked for a time as servants at the Barker family mansion on Washington Street. Then, Anna moved to Chicago, where she became interested in theater. There she was discovered by Lillian Russell, the most famous American actress at the time, who took Anna under her wing and gave her opportunities for acting and modeling. Anna then changed her name to Anita King.

Anita King was encouraged to head West, where she began modeling for auto shows in Los Angeles. She learned to drive, became one of the first female race car drivers on the West Coast, and won several races. However, after waking up in a hospital following a race car accident, she decided to resume her acting career, not on the stage, but in the new motion picture industry. She had met a young director named Cecil B. De Mille and began performing in the Jesse L. Laskey film company, which soon became Paramount Pictures. She played small and leading roles in 19 silent movies, including The Virginian, The Girl of the Golden West, Snobs with Victor Moore, and Carmen with Geraldine Farrar and directed by De Mille.

In 1912, Carl G. Fisher from Indiana proposed the idea to build the first transcontinental highway from New York to San Francisco. To help promote the new Paramount Picture Corporation, Anita King took the challenge to become the first woman to drive solo from San Francisco to New York on the new Lincoln Highway. The Kissel Kar Company and Firestone Tires were among the promoters, and Jesse Lasky paid for the expenses of the journey for Anita, who was publicized as “The Paramount Girl.” The Los Angeles Times wrote: “She will have no mechanician, no chauffer, no maid. Her only companions will be a rifle and a six-shooter.”

On Sept. 1, 1915, Anita King left in a 42-6 Kissel Kar on her coast-to-coast journey through the Nevada desert and the Wyoming mud and stopped at theaters in cities along the way to talk to movie fans about her adventure and filmmaking. On October 19, 1915, Anita King, “The Paramount Girl,” was escorted by scores of movie fans into New York City 49 days after she left San Francisco.

From then on her career as an actress prospered, and she starred in a 1916 movie called The Race in which she performed her own daring stunts and used actual footage that she filmed during her journey. In 1918, she drove solo again, but on a southern route from L.A. to Washington, D.C., to raise funds for the war effort.

Anita married Tom McKenna in 1933 but was widowed in 1942. She resided in southern California but often visited family members in Michigan City. Anita King died June 10, 1963, in Hollywood at the age of 78 and is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Bruce R. Johnson is an educator, historian, genealogist, lecturer, musician, photographer, and world traveler. He serves on numerous boards of directors, including the La Porte County Historical Society. Email him at mrjsc@csinet.net.

3 Responses to “More on the fascinating, fabulous life of La Porte County native Anita King”

  1. ILUVLP

    May 08. 2021

    Great story. Thanks for sharing that piece of history.
    I was metal detecting once and dug an emblem from a Kissel Jar.
    I had no idea what a Kissel Jar was at that point. It turned out to be the emblem that mounted to the front of the radiator.

    Reply to this comment
    • ILUVLP

      May 08. 2021

      Sorry for the typo, I meant Kissel KAR not jar. Darn cell phones.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Deb Hunter

    May 11. 2021

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