Today, Kay Thompson is remembered largely as the author of the iconic 'Eloise' books and for her picture-stealing turn as the Diana Vreeland-like fashion editor in 'Funny Face'. But the preternaturally talentEd Thompson was so much more: singer, vocal arranger, nightclub star, radio personality, fashion innovator, sometimes shrewd businesswoman, mentor-and world-classeccentric. In 'Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise', film director and producer Sam Irvin delivers the first full-length biography of this inimitable personality who left her indelible mark on show business-and on the lives of millions of readers. The book will be released November 2, 2010.
Born in St. Louis in the first decade of the twentieth century, the Midwest could not contain the ambitions of Catherine Louise Fink. By the time she was a teenager, she was playing piano concerti with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and appearing on local radio programs. Before long she hightailed it to California, where she soon became a fixture singing on radio and in such swanky venues as the Cocoanut Grove. Armed with a new name and, thanks to the first of many plastic surgeries, a new nose, Kay Thompson exerted her talents as a vocal arranger. Ambitious as she was gifted, she and a revolving series of backup singers appeared on countless radio shows on both coasts.
Then Hollywood called, and Thompson became an arranger and vocal coach in the legendary Freed Unit at MGM. There she worked with Judy Garland, helping the young singer develop what would become her signature style. The two women became inseparable friends personally, as well as professionally. Three decades later, Thompson would perform a similar Svengali-like role in the life and career of her goddaughter, Lisa Minnelli. Thompson also worked with Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Van Johnson, Lucille Ball, and a host of other stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. She dreamed of her own on-screen career, but those aspirations were hampered by her uniqueness as a performer and her often unreasonable demands.
Frustrated, she left MGM and put together a nightclub act that would skyrocket her to fame and
make her the toast of Café Society in New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris. For a time, she
was the highest paid cabaret performer in the world. Her singular fashion sense inspired a popular
line of slacks for women long before the big designers laid claim to the innovation.
As she approached fifty, Kay Thompson would reinvent herself not once, but twice. Cast at last in a movie role that utilized her unique talents, she all but stole 'Funny Face' from its stars, Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire-earning Astaire' s eternal wrath in the process. She followed this achievement with an even bigger one-writing a series of books about Eloise, the poor little rich girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel, that would become a literary and marketing sensation. The ever-savvy Thompson parlayed Eloise' s popularity into a wealth of perks, including a rent-free suite at the Plaza. But Kay was not through, as she continued to leave her stamp in unlikely places, including the Kennedy Inaugural Gala, which she directed with her usual iron-fisted flair.
As Irvin chronicles Thompson' s life and work with meticulous research and lively narrative zest, he never shies away from the darker aspects of Thompson' s life, including her obsession with plastic surgery and her dependence on amphetamines. He dissects Thompson' s two volatile marriages, while deconstructing rumors that she was a lesbian. Indeed, he chronicles a number of Thompson' s intense heterosexual love affairs, including one with a much younger Andy Williams who, with his brothers, was part of one of Kay' s storied backup groups. Often stubborn and demanding in both her professional and personal life, Thompson was both the architect and, on many occasions, saboteur of her own success, and Irvin has reconstructed a remarkably detailed account of her mercurial career.