from Funny Face to Eloise
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Kay Thompson
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Brent Hartinger, AfterElton.com, 11/18/2010: Another biography of interest that might be of interest to some gay and bi men is out this month: Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise (Simon & Schuster $26.99) by Sam Irvin. Who is Kay Thompson and why is she deserving of a biography in the first place? She was a very occasional movie actress (most famous for playing the "Think Pink!" fashion editor in the 1957 Audrey Hepburn-Fred Astaire movie Funny Face) who later reinvented herself as a songwriter and a fashion and interior designer, and also as the author of the Eloise children's books (about the little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York). But Thompson started out as a cabaret singer — eventually becoming one of the most successful such singers in the 1950s.  She also happened to be Judy Garland's best friend and the godmother of Liza Minnelli, who recreated Thompson's nightclub act in her 2009 Broadway show Liza's at the Palace. The beauty of a biography of a lesser-known but influential figure like Kay Thompson is their Zelig-like appearances in the lives of other celebrities, and here Irvin delivers. Thompson had many, many such brushes with greatness, crossing paths with Henry Ford, Tennessee Williams, Bing Crosby, Andy Warhol, Andy Williams (with whom she had a May-September affair), Howard Hughes, and Jerry Herman (and almost playing Vera Charles in Mame, a role she seems to have been born to play). But like Crawford, Thompson was a diva through and through, and her infuriating diva-esque behavior undercut much of her own success. (Indeed, despite making millions in her nightclub act and through her books, Minnelli basically supported Thompson for the last 20 years of her life — at least once the Plaza Hotel kicked her out, where, incredibly, she lived rent-free for many years because of her books publicizing the place.)  Irvin, who directed three seasons of the gay soft-core soap opera Dante's Cove, provides lots of detail. But the problem with the fact that Thompson is a somewhat lesser-known, less-interviewed figure is that we never learn much about what she was thinking. She lived a pretty fascinating life, and this is a respectable look at this life, but it stays firmly on the outside looking in. Still, if you're a fan, or if you're a die-hard Liza aficionado, this is worth reading.
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