'Kay Thompson: From Funny Face To Eloise' To Be Released 11/02
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.
In the end, Irvin says, Thompson's legacy lives on. "Kay Thompson' s pervasive genius still reverberates in movies, music, dance, books, and fashion. But perhaps her most surprising gift was empowerment. Legions of working women have been inspired by her trailblazing in a man' s world-in real life as well as on screen in 'Funny Face'. And generations of children have been seminally influenced by the independent spirit of Eloise."
Kay Thompson was her own greatest creations, and Sam Irvin' s at once affectionate and judicious biography definitively captures the essence of this one-of-a-kind star like lightning in achampagne flute.
More praise for Kay Thompson:
" The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was my godmother, Kay Thompson. No one was as brilliant or as funny, and Sam Irvin's book manages to capture that lightning in a bottle. Hang onto your hair!"
- Liza Minmelli
"Kay Thompson was the most important influence on me and my musical career. Sam Irvin's wonderful book is right on the mark. It brought back many memories of how brilliant she was and how far ahead of her time she really was. She was one of a kind."
- Andy Williams
" As sizzling, as crackling, as modern, as snarky and advanced as showbiz history can be, this biography surpasses it. You may have no idea how much the great, insane and wild woman, Kay Thompson, influenced the entertainment decades from the Forties to her death in 1998. You love celebrity? Celebrity loved Kay! A smashing work."
- Liz Smith
" For anybody who knows anything about the history of show business, my friend Kay Thompson was its most lovable lunatic doll. In a 50-color deluxe box of Crayolas, she was fire-engine red. Sam Irvin has now preserved an authentic legend in amber with an exhaustively researched book that captures her genius, eccentricity, talent, personality and unique sense of humor in words as colorful as Kay herself. Like her own favorite word for anything special she discovered, experienced, savored and liked, it's got "Bazazz"!
- Rex Reed
"It takes a dazzlingly written book to properly capture the incandescent life of Kay Thompson. This is one of the best showbiz bio's I've ever read, meticulously researched and filled with captivating stories!"
- Michael Feinstein
About the Author:
Sam Irvin is a veteran director, producer and screenwriter for movies and television. He has directed a dozen movies, including 'Guilty as Charged', 'Out There', 'Elvira' s Haunted Hills', and 'Fat Rose and Squeaky', and was co-executive producer of the Academy Award winning motion picture, 'Gods and Monsters' (starring Sir Ian McKellen).
Irvin served as historical consultant to Liza Minnelli for her recreation of the "Kay Thompson and
the Williams Brothers" nightclub act in Liza' s At The Palace, which won the 2009 Tony Award for
Best Special Theatrical Event. Irvin produced the 3-CD collection 'Think Pink! A Kay Thompson
Party' (Sepia Records, released September 8, 2009). He also served as a historical consultant in
'Kay Thompson: Think Pink!', a 30-minute documentary included as an extra on Paramount Home
Entertainment' s " Centennial Collection" 2-DVD edition of 'Funny Face'.
The book will be released November 2, 2010 and will cost $26.99. For more information on the book or its publisher, visit Simon & Schuster on the web at www.simonandschuster.com.