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KAY THOMPSON by Sam Irvin

KAY THOMPSON

From Funny Face to Eloise

By Sam Irvin

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7653-5
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Funny-faced girl makes good: the extraordinary career of Kay Thompson (1909–1998).

Hollywood director and producer Irvin presents the life of Thompson with vigor and dash befitting his larger-than-life subject. She was a singer, songwriter, arranger, vocal coach and author, best remembered today for her Eloise children’s-book series, an iconic performance in Funny Face (1957) and as the godmother and muse of Liza Minnelli. Born Catherine Fink in modest circumstances in St. Louis, Mo., the precociously talented Thompson wasted little time shedding her Midwestern roots and taking her rightful place in the world of show business, forging a successful career singing on the radio before winding up at M-G-M as the studio’s in-house vocal arranger and coach. From the start, Thompson was too intelligent, too iconoclastic, too demanding…too much, and her wildly innovative artistry and eccentric hauteur prevented her from ever truly breaking through to a mass audience. However, those traits endeared her to Hollywood royalty and made acolytes of the likes of Judy Garland, Lena Horne, and Frank Sinatra, all of whom were coached by Thompson. Irvin charts Thompson’s dizzying successes (a nightclub act with the Williams Brothers that broke attendance records and convulsed audiences to the point of hysteria) and crushing failures (a control freak and egomaniac, Thompson repeatedly shot herself in the foot, turning down offers or leaving projects that failed to meet her impossible standards) with rollicking humor and infectious enthusiasm. The story of Thompson’s Eloise franchise—the author had honed the character since childhood, and frequently startled peers by lapsing into the moppet’s inimitable patois—is as fascinating as her performing career, and equally frustrating, as her abominable treatment of her collaborator, illustrator Hilary Knight (Thompson’s need for sole credit bordered on the pathological), casts a bit of a pall over those effervescent little tomes.

An extremely entertaining chronicle of one of the most distinctive and absurdly gifted personalities in the history of show business.