from Funny Face to Eloise
Joanne Latimer, Maclean’s, 1/17/2011:
Kay Thompson was one amazing dame—a rainmaker who put together radio shows in the 1930s, a vocal coach at
MGM who “put the sob” in Judy Garland’s voice, and an author who created an iconic feminist character in Eloise.
Thompson (née “Kitty” Fink) wore pants and directed television specials when women did not. She was Frank
Sinatra’s vocal guru, Liza Minnelli’s godmother, Noël Coward’s playmate, Gene Kelly’s charades partner, Fred
Astaire’s nemesis, Lena Horne’s matchmaker, and Andy Williams’s much older girlfriend.
Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise is an engrossing biography that leaves no lyricist, lover, radio station,
studio executive, club owner or band leader unnamed. That’s its most impressive accomplishment and its biggest
flaw. It can be tedious to read about the unknowns. But things get dishy during Thompson’s nightclub era (1947-
1955), when her act with the Williams Brothers caught fire. To keep up the pace, Thompson became a patient of the
infamous Dr. Max Jacobson, who gave celebrities injections of speed. Eating only Fig Newtons and drinking Coke,
Thompson was known as the life of the party. The next milestone for Thompson was the silver screen, where she
upstaged Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in Funny Face. But her career didn’t progress as planned. “Bolstering the
careers of others was a bittersweet endeavour for someone who craved the spotlight so intently,” notes author Sam
Irvin preserves Thompson’s star-studded exploits with the attention to detail that Thompson would approve of, but the
author is best when charting Thompson’s talent for reinvention. At 46, she became a bestselling author as the creator
of Eloise, a precocious girl living in New York’s Plaza Hotel. When Thompson’s controlling personality alienated the
book’s illustrator, Hilary Knight, her career took another turn. At the age of 64, she conquered New York as a fashion
show producer and doyenne of style. Eccentric and parsimonious, Thompson did not grow old gracefully. Irvin credits
Liza Minnelli for taking in the mercurial Thompson from 1973 until her death in 1998 at the age of 88.
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