from Funny Face to Eloise
Kay Thompson
Complete Reviews
Claire Kelley, [tk] reviews, 10/2010: Kay   Thompson   is   not   a   familiar   name   to   most   Americans   today,   even   though   she   was   a   friend   and   colleague   of   some   of   the   biggest names   in   twentieth   century   popular   culture.   She   was   a   vocal   coach   and   good   friend   of   Judy   Garland,   Frank   Sinatra,   and   Lena   Horne; she   was   close   with   writers   like   Ray   Bradbury   and   Truman   Capote;   she   helped   cast   Gene   Kelly   and   Lucille   Ball   in   her   second   husband’s radio   show;   and   she   later   upstaged   Audrey   Hepburn   and   Fred   Astaire   when   she   played   the   part   of   the   “Think   Pink”   fashion   magazine editor   in   Funny   Face —just   to   name   a   few. You   most   likely   have   seen   the   results   of   Kay Thompson’s   creative   genius   without   ever   knowing her name. As   Sam   Irvin   describes   in   a   new   biography,   Kay   Thompson    (Simon   &   Schuster,   $26.99),   she   was   not   only   friends   with   famous   actors, singers,   and   writers,   she   also   inspired   them,   coached   them,   and   had   a   lasting   influence   on   countless   aspiring   stars.   She   was   an incredible   performer   in   her   own   right,   an   eccentric   drama   queen,   and   a   force   to   be   reckoned   with,   and   was   someone   who   had   an unfailing drive to succeed and an uncanny ability to reinvent herself after experiencing disastrous personal and professional setbacks. Thompson   was   also   the   author   of   one   of   my   all-time   favorite   literary   creations:   the   precocious,   mischievous,   and   hilarious   six-year-old Eloise   who   runs   around   the   Plaza   Hotel   with   her   Nanny,   her   pet   bulldog   Weenie,   and   her   pet   turtle   Skipperdee.   She   “sklonks”   the   barber in   the   kneecap   and   declares   things   like:   “I   am   Eloise.   I   am   six.   I   am   a   city   child”   or   “You   have   to   eat   oatmeal   or   you’ll   dry   up.   Anybody knows   that.” Thompson   was   indeed   a   rawther    fabulous   person,   as   Eloise   would   say,   but   many   fascinating   yet   previously   unknown   details of   her   life   are   revealed   in   this   book:   she   was   a   founding   member   of   the   Rat   Pack,   her   arrangements   inspired   the   song   “If   Only   I   Had   a Brain”   in   The   Wizard   of   Oz ,   she   had   an   affair   with   Andy   Williams   when   she   was   eighteen   years   his   senior,   she   directed   John   F. Kennedy’s    Inaugural    Ball    and    an    extraordinary    fashion    show    in    Versailles    (Bill    Cunningham    called    it    “the    Valhalla    of   American fashion—and   everything   was   all   downhill   after   that”),   and   she   was   able   to   convince   airlines   and   other   companies   to   sponsor   her   fabulous trips   with   illustrator   Hilary   Knight   to   Paris   and   Moscow   to   do   firsthand   research   for   the   sequels   to   the   original   Eloise   book,   Eloise   at   the Plaza. Born    to    Jewish    immigrants    in    St.    Louis,   Thompson    was    actually    the    created    name    and    persona    of    Catherine    “Kitty”    Fink,    who experienced   some   rocky   starts   when   she   moved   to   Los   Angeles   to   pursue   a   career   in   radio   in   the   1930s   (when   she   first   arrived   on   the West   Coast,   the   job   she   had   been   promised   didn’t   come   through). After   landing   radio   work   that   catapulted   her   to   stardom,   she   eventually became   MGM’s   “secret   weapon”   as   a   vocal   coach   for   years.   She   was   later   released   from   her   contract   (and   her   first   marriage),   and started   a   cabaret   act,   “Kay   Thompson   and   the   Williams   Brothers,”   which   earned   her   outrageous   sums   of   money   and   was   in   demand   all over   the   country.   From   radio   to   having   the   number-one   nightclub   routine   in   the   world, Thompson   went   on   to   cameos   in   the   arenas   of   film, fashion,   and   publishing,   all   the   while   making   groundbreaking   moves   like   wearing   pants,   designing   bras,   or   writing   what   Irvin   claims   could be considered the first rap songs. As she herself declared, “I have always been 20 years ahead of myself.” But   this   book   reveals   some   of   the   darker   sides   of   Thompson’s   life:   she   went   through   two   divorces   and   was   notoriously   difficult   to   work with,   often   throwing   Eloise-esque   temper   tantrums.   In   the   early   1970s,   she   told   a   friend,   “I   love   love   and   I   believe   in   divorce.   Two   great things.   I’ve   lived   with   quite   a   few   men   and   alone   is   better.   That   doesn’t   mean   I’m   a   loner,   I   just   don’t   like   to   ask   permission.”   (Irvin addresses   rumors   that   Thompson   had   an   affair   with   Judy   Garland,   who   was   miserable   in   her   own   marriage   to   Vincent   Minnelli,   but   this seems   unlikely.)   Thompson   was   offered   many   film   roles   and   money-making   proposals   in   her   life,   but   she   would   make   such   outrageous demands   that   the   person   making   the   offer   would   eventually   give   up.   From   a   young   age,   she   was   never   happy   with   her   looks,   and   she had   five   nose   jobs   and   multiple   facelifts. The   creepiest   part   of   the   book   suggests   that Thompson   was   addicted   to   “B-12   vitamin   cocktails” that   her   doctor   injected   into   her,   which,   in   reality,   were   a   powerful   combination   of   amphetamines   that   kept   Kay   always   energetic   and   rail- thin. Irvin   did   an   incredible   amount   of   research   for   this   book,   and   he   provides   meticulous   details   and   firsthand   accounts   of   encounters   with Thompson   that   really   make   her   personality   and   the   show   business   world   come   alive.   Those   in   the   publishing   world   will   recognize anecdotes   from   Bob   Bernstein   and   Bennett   Cerf   at   Random   House,   which   published   the   Eloise   at   Christmastime    book   (the   others   were published   by   Simon   &   Schuster),   as   well   as   the   late   Nina   Bourne,   the   famed   advertising   wordsmith   who   edited   Eloise   in   Paris    at   Simon   & Schuster after its original editor, Jack Goodman, died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Irvin   includes   plenty   of   classic   Thompson   anecdotes,   including   the   time   she   drove   a   car   across   a   golf   course   to   try   make   it   to   a   meeting on   time,   or   when   she   disappeared   and   someone   found   her   in   Cuba   at   a   hotel   run   by   the   mob,   or   when   she   sent   a   telegraph   to   Orson Welles   to   “ask”   if   she   could   use   his   name   in   a   number   she   did   with   the   Williams   brothers   called   “Poor   Suzette   (with   Her   Restoration Bosom   and   Four   Lovers):   “Dear   Darling Adorable   Orson:   I’m   taking   the   liberty   of   using   your   name   in   a   number   called   SUZETTE   unless   I hear   from   you   to   the   contrary.   Needless   to   say,   it   is   used   with   charm   and   affection   and   if   you   are   not   here   by   11:30   I   will   refuse   to   go   on. Your   lover.   Kay   Thompson.”   For   those   who   know   Eloise,   it   is   obvious   that   Kay   Thompson   was   the   creative   genius   behind   the   character with   lines   like   these:   “I’ve   discovered   the   secret   of   life: A   lot   of   hard   work,   a   lot   of   sense   of   humor,   a   lot   of   job   and   a   whole   lot   of   tra-la-la!” or “Enthusiasm and imagination can carry you anywhere you want to go, without Vuitton luggage.” At   one   point,   Irvin   quotes   Louella   Parsons   as   saying   in   the   1950s:   “What   a   story   Kay’s   sensational   rise   to   fame   is—much   more   thrilling than fiction . . . Someday somebody’s going to write it—it would make a fascinating story.” Sam Irvin’s editorial reply in the book is: “Ya think?” And this book proves it to be true.
Think Pink! Think Pink! Think Pink!
All content on this website Copyright © 2018 Sam Irvin, All Rights Reserved