Like her creation Eloise, the rambunctious 6-year-old who prowls Manhattan's Plaza Hotel in the immortal children's books, Kay Thompson faced life with panache. "Failure is a stranger to me," she said. "Enthusiasm and imagination can carry you anywhere you want to go, without Vuitton luggage."
Thompson, who never divulged her age but was probably 95 when she died last week, knew how to get places. Born Kitty Fink in St. Louis, she played piano with the St. Louis Symphony, sang with the Mills Brothers, voice-coached Lena Home and Judy Garland (whose daughter Liza Minnelli was Thompson's goddaughter) and earned raves as fashion designer Maggie Prescott in the 1957 movie musical Funny Face.
But Thompson's greatest acclaim came from the. mischievous little girl whose literary debut she dreamed up during a 1954 singing gig at the Plaza. Kay Thompson's Eloise was an immediate bestseller. "Eloise was the child everyone wanted to be," says longtime friend John Loring. "And that was the child Kay was all her life."
Though an Eloise portrait still hangs in the Plaza lobby, Thompson—twice divorced and childless—guarded her creation zealously, nixing Ivana Trump's offer to build an Eloise room in the hotel. Still, she was eager to share her philosophy—and Eloise's. "I've discovered the secret of life," she said once. "A lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy and a whole lot of tra la la."
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