from Funny Face to Eloise
Kay Thompson
Complete Reviews
David Marshall James, Yahoo! Shine, 11/27/2010: She kapowied the ala-KAY-zam into showbiz, but Kay Thompson (who began life as Kitty Fink, in St. Louis) is most-remembered today as the author of the “Eloise” books, ostensibly for children. And, although Eloise debuted when Thompson was nearing age 50, the character had been a large part of her life theretofore, an alter- ego via Kay got her way, only more so. Film historians are well aware of her contributions to the Golden Age of the MGM musical, her spectacular arrangements and compositions of special material for such production numbers as the Oscar-winning “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe," from "The Harvey Girls” (1945). Thompson mentored scores of performers before (on radio and stage), during, and after her MGM tenure, including some who were not accustomed to singing and were suddenly required to warble. If nothing else, she coached them to recite rhythmically. While writing an entire sketch for the uber-dramatic actress Greer Garson to perform in “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), Thompson invented the rap song (which she continued to develop throughout her career in other venues), although “Madame Crematante” wound up as a tour de force for Judy Garland. Thompson became an unofficial godmother to Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Lena Horne, and an official one to Liza Minnelli, whose performances she later guided, as well. Nevertheless, “the mentor with the mostess” remained something of a frustrated movie star.  Her “performer’s performer” sophistication and sharply cut facial features-- including a proboscis with which she was never satisfied, in spite of multiple rhinoplasties-- mitigated against her, as did her desire to control every aspect of a production. As usual, Thompson was ahead of her time: Barbra Streisand when Babs was still skipping rope in Brooklyn. However, upon departing MGM, Thompson devised the perfect showcase for her personality, talents, and take-charge attitude: a nightclub act. Into the breach of the ultra-tony club scene she marched, from Ciro’s and The Mocambo on the West Coast to The Persian Room at The Plaza (home to Eloise, of course) in New York to the Cafe de Paris in London. She emerged as the highest paid performer in that arena-- soon assisting Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, and Van Johnson with their respective club acts-- backed by a quartet of Iowa farm boys, the Williams Brothers, one of whom, Andy, she would nurture into television and recording superstardom. Kay and Andy also enjoyed an on-again, off-again affair, in the face of a substantial age difference: Kay the Cougar, multiple beats ahead of her time. Her nightclub stardom made her a more viable candidate for the movies, in which she could have built a lengthy career as a character actress, yet she repudiated dozens of offers.  However, she did succumb to the role of a high-powered fashionista alongside Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in “Funny Face” (1957). Always noted for her chic apparel-- she popularized upscale pants in sumptuous fabrics for her act, as well as for women's evening wear-- Thompson reinvented the fashion show during the 1970s, encouraging such newcomers as Donna Karan. Film and television producer Sam Irvin brings Thompson lovingly, yet well-lit, to this thoroughly researched and stylishly written biography that probably would have delighted its subject, until she inevitably proclaimed:  “It’s my life, and I should write it!” Actually, she was afforded the opportunity. Toward the end, perhaps, she may have believed the “Eloise” adventures were autobiography enough.
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