After rereading the Eloise books, I have become fascinated with her creators, Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight. It really does seem that sometimes life is stranger than fiction.
Take Kay Thompson, for example – she was a singer on the radio, before being signed by MGM to be their top vocal coach, and working with the likes of Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. My first encounter with her was not in fact through Eloise – she appears in Funny Face, which I first watched when I was sixth – my sister’s kindergarten teacher lent us the video when she learnt that our family was moving to Paris. Kay Thompson plays the magazine editor, who sings ‘Think Pink’ and wears only a two-toned palate of black and white. She was also a vocal arranger, on such films as Ziegfeld Follies and The Harvey Girls. She was the godmother of Liza Minnelli, who is supposedly the inspiration behind Eloise (something that Kay Thompson denied, stating whenever she was asked that ‘I am Eloise’.)
Hilary Knight’s artwork ranged from picture book illustrations, Broadway posters (including Gypsy), magazines and record albums, as well as maintaining a gallery. When Kay Thompson blocked publication of Eloise Takes A Bawth and other books that Hilary Knight had illustrated, it was a huge cause of tension between the pair, especially since it deprived Hilary Knight of income from the books until her death in 1998. Kay stopped taking Hilary’s phone calls. Hilary Knight believes that Kay Thompson was jealous of Eloise’s success, and with how everyone related to Eloise and felt that they were Eloise. He famously drew an illustration for Vanity Fair in 1996 of Kay pushing Eloise aside to scrawl on the Plaza mirror ‘I am Eloise’.
While Kay can be painted as a villain, I think that she had to be the kind of person that she was to write a book like Eloise. This, of course, does not forgive her appalling behaviour towards Hilary Knight, and her forceful decision to guard Eloise as her own, and only her own, but I do think that she needed to be that sort of flamboyant, jealous, ‘Hollywood-type’ to write such a book. Life does imitate art, and art imitates life…