From Funny Face to Eloise
By Sam Irvin
(Simon & Schuster, Paperback, 9781439176542, 432pp.)
Publication Date: November 15, 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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Kay Thompson’s larger-than-life story is an effervescent toast to show business with a shot of Auntie Mame and a twist of The Devil Wears Prada.
A multi-threat entertainer and a world-class eccentric, Kay Thompson was the mentor/best friend of Judy Garland, the vocal guru for Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne, and the godmother/Svengali of Liza Minnelli (who recreated Thompson’s nightclub act in her 2009 Tony Award–winning event, Liza’s at the Palace).
She went to school with Tennessee Williams, auditioned for Henry Ford, got her first big break from Bing Crosby, trained Marilyn Monroe, channeled Elvis Presley, rejected Andy Warhol, rebuffed Federico Fellini, got fired by Howard Hughes, and snubbed Donald Trump.
She coached Bette Davis and Eleanor Roosevelt; she created nightclub acts for Marlene Dietrich and Ginger Rogers; and when Lucille Ball had to sing on Broadway, Kay was the wind beneath her wings, too.
Kay’s legion of fans included Queen Elizabeth of England, King Juan Carlos of Spain, and Princess Grace (Kelly) of Monaco. Danny Kaye masqueraded in drag as her; Noël Coward and Cole Porter wrote musicals for her; and The Beatles wanted to hold her hand. She was a charter member of the Rat Pack, costarred in a whodunit with Ronald Reagan, and directed John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Gala.
The dame cut a wide swath through the arts. After conquering radio in the 1930s she commandeered MGM’s vocal department in the 1940s, where she revolutionized the studio’s greatest musicals with her audacious arrangements, from The Harvey Girls to Ziegfeld Follies.
In the 1950s she became the highest-paid cabaret attraction in the world with her groundbreaking act "Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers," featuring her young protégé—and secret lover—Andy Williams.
In a stunning feat of reinvention, Thompson next became the bestselling author of Eloise (first published by Simon & Schuster in 1955), chronicling the mischievous adventures of the six-year-old mascot of The Plaza, spawning an industry that is still going strong today.
Then Kay took the silver screen by storm as the "Think Pink!" fashion magazine editor in Funny Face, stealing the film right out from under Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire.
The Thompson saga swells from small town wannabe to international headliner, dissolving into self-destruction and madness—the storyline usually reserved for a rags-to-riches potboiler—yet with unexpected twists, outlandish turns, and a last-minute happy ending that, even by Hollywood’s standards, is nothing short of preposterous. But that is Kay Thompson. Fascinating. Frustrating. Fabulous!
SAM IRVIN is a veteran filmmaker. After beginning his career as Brian De Palma’s assistant on Dressed to Kill, Irvin has directed a dozen movies, including Guilty as Charged, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, and Kiss of a Stranger (from his own original screenplay). Irvin’s other credits include co-executive producing Bill Condon’s Academy Award-winning motion picture, Gods and Monsters. Between projects, he teaches graduate courses on filmmaking at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
“Fans of Hollywood's golden age and fans of the Plaza Hotel's most famous inhabitant will be, in Eloise speak, rawther glad that Kay Thompson's own story has been told.”
– Joanne Kaufman, The Wall Street Journal
“Light, breezy, gossipy and filled with historical connections one could never imagine.”
– Patrick McGuire, Chicago Sun-Times
“Irvin superbly tells the whole story about a fabulous yet flawed woman.”
– Craig Wilson, USA Today
“This incredible new book… is packed, and I mean jam-packed, with one juicy story after another… The book is like a party in your hands!”
– Liz Smith, wowOwow.com