Guess who’s celebrating her 60th Anniversary this month?
She isn’t 60 years old, silly. She’ll always be SIX. And a city child. Who lives at The Plaza.
But 60 years ago, the first Eloise book was published: Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grownups by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight. It became an instant phenomenon and was followed by four sequels: Eloise in Paris, Eloise at Christmastime, Eloise in Moscow, and Eloise Takes a Bawth. To date, these five original titles as well as other books based on the Eloise character and the art of Hilary Knight have sold an estimated 6 million copies. 🙂
Here’s what I like
my Eloise bookshelf
Here’s what you should do
make a splawsh
Whenever things get the teensiest bit dull, I skibble and skiddle and oh-so-artfully sklathe through any of the Eloise books.
Here’s what she taught me
eat oatmeal every morning or you’ll dry up
Because of Eloise, my fondest dream is to live at the Plaza, where I could take tea every afternoon in the Palm Court, drive Mr. Salomone and my tutor nuts, pour water down the mail chute, attend weddings in the White and Gold Room, play with Weenie and Skipperdee, and scarf down a meringue glacée while Nanny has her Pilsener. Who wouldn’t want to have a luxury hotel as her playground? ROOM SERVICE! Charge it, please.
I could even visit Paris for Lord’s sake, discovering langoustines make good fingernails, French bread good skis. I’d bask in beaucoup this and beaucoup that, while feasting on tarte mirabelles and champagne with a peach in it (because the French don’t boil the water for tea). Throw in a little d’accord, pas de quoi, zut and beaucoup regardez and I’d be all set.
Why not Moscow for a little spy-ish Cold War intrigue? Da da da! Watch me brush my teeth with pear or apple lemonade. I’d eat mostly black caviar from the Caspian Sea but not drink the tea, which is weak weak weak. Nyet nyet nyet!
Home in New York for a glorious Christmas. I love peppermint puffs and fudge, nuts that crackledy crack yum yum. With a zippity jingle I’d get presents for all my closest friends, resplendent in trinkets and crinkles and sklinkles of glee. Ho ho ho and jiggledy ping!
Here’s what I’d rawther NOT do
take another bawth
I don’t know of any other children’s book character with a voice this BIG, and it makes perfect sense when you consider that Kay Thompson, a multi-talented composer, musician, actor and performer, had an outsize personality and was an extraordinary vocal coach for cryingoutloud. In the mild mannered Donna Reedish 50’s, with its safe Golden Books and fluffy bunnies, along comes Eloise — no parental supervision, feisty, precocious, naughty, mischievous, irrepressible, daring, wild!
It’s such a trip to live vicariously through her, to consider throwing off complacency, challenging the status quo for something ELSE. Eloise is beloved by girls 3 to 103, and rightfully so. Biographer Sam Irvin (Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise) suggests Ms. Thompson was an early feminist:
I really feel that in the ’50s, Kay was spearheading a lot of the early rumblings of feminism — being out there, having careers — and I really think that Eloise was a seminal influence on this.
Kay’s musical genius comes through loud and clear in her patter chatter text — a lyrical jazz riff apropos for a character who seems to improvise her life as she goes along.
Eloise’s three-word repetitions, pet expressions and ebullient phrasing are a joy to read aloud (keep an oxygen tank in tow).
Little songs are incorporated in the stories as one might expect from a composer, but thanks to Kay’s crackerjack diction and saucy syncopation, the texts themselves have a music all their own — pure melodramatic Eloise, bursting at the seams, always in motion, living in the moment with a child’s intensity.
The more I reread the books, the more I love and appreciate Hilary Knight’s brilliant pen-and-ink drawings. He, too, defied convention by filling the pages with sketchy, highly emotive drawings that perfectly capture every nuance of Eloise’s personality, every ounce of her energy and pint-sized panache. He and Kay collaborated in person, unlike today when it’s the norm for an author and illustrator not to meet or discuss the work in progress. Lucky for us they didn’t mind being holed up in the Plaza with each other for days on end, concocting new Eloise adventures.
I only learned recently, thanks to Sam Irvin’s book, that when author Kay Thompson was a child she had an imaginary friend named Eloise, and that she had been doing the Eloise child voice most of her life. The official PR story has it that Kay spontaneously broke out in Eloise speak one day when she was late for a rehearsal (or a photo session). When asked, “Who do you think you are, arriving here 5 minutes late?”, she replied, “I am Eloise. I am six.” Some speculate Eloise was inspired by Kay’s goddaughter Liza Minnelli, but Kay maintained that Eloise was all HER.
So how did Kay and Hilary meet? Kay had been doing the Eloise shtick with her friends for quite awhile when one of them, D.D. Dixon (fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar), suggested she write it down. D.D. then introduced Kay to her neighbor Hilary Knight (she liked his drawings). After Hilary sent Kay a Christmas card that included a drawing of Eloise, Kay was sold. It must have been very exciting to see her imaginary friend, the inner child she vocalized so often, on paper for the first time. Kay and Hilary were instantly simpatico, together creating a character whose enviable lifestyle and quirks would resonate with millions for decades.
Eloise shows no signs of slowing down. Some of you may have seen the two made for TV movies about her, or visited the Eloise Shop at The Plaza. There are Rawther Fancy Teas on Fridays, Eloise yoga and cooking classes, dance parties and other special events during the holidays. The Palm Court is even serving a special Eloise birthday cake! And wouldn’t it be fun to spend the night in the Eloise Suite? If you have a few thousand dollars to spare, please blow it my way. 🙂
I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THE PLAZA!!!!
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🍰 SO WHAT’S NEW? 🍸
Simon & Schuster has just released a 60th Anniversary Edition of The Absolutely Essential Eloise (October 2015). This rawther splendid volume contains the original Eloise book + a cool Scrapbook, brimming with vintage photos of Kay and Hilary, drawings by Hilary, and “The Story of Eloise” by Marie Brenner.
Ms. Brenner, a writer-at-large for Vanity Fair, describes the impact Eloise had on her personally as well as 1950’s society. Eloise came at just the right time to shake things up. She relates what little is known of Kay Thompson’s early life, and describes Kay’s work as a vocal arranger at MGM with some of the biggest stars of the day including Lena Horne and Judy Garland (with whom she became close friends), and Kay’s lucrative career as a cabaret performer with the Williams Brothers.
We also learn how Hilary Knight’s parents (both artist-writers) influenced his style, and more about Kay and Hilary collaborating on the Eloise sequels. This is a nice book for Eloise collectors as well as those new to the series because it contains such an interesting backstory.
Also new this Fall is The 365 Days of Eloise: My Book of Holidays (Simon & Schuster, 2015), with all new drawings by Hilary Knight! Eloise lists holidays and celebrations she’s especially looking forward to all year. For each month, there’s a full-page calendar pin-up, with specific dates, notes and drawings on the opposite page.
She begins in January with a few droll New Year’s resolutions, including “Be more TRANQUIL — my mother’s advice” (hah!), Less HALL SKIBBLING . . . NANNY’S suggestion,” and my favorites: “Make friends with the new PASTRY CHEF” and “Order a RAISIN soufflé for SKIPPERDEE.” I love that she and Nanny make a Presidential tasty pudding for “Abe and Georgie” in February, that in June they celebrate both Nanny’s and Queen Elizabeth’s birthdays, that in August they consult their travel brochures and fantasize about dream vacations.
Those who’ve wondered whether Eloise ever goes to school will find an interesting clue in the September pin-up: On the rug there’s a “Thinking Girls Guide to Home School,” which is in line with visits from Philip the tutor, who was mentioned in the first book. Naturally in the Fall Eloise is all about consulting fashion catalogs because it’s absolutely essential to choose a fitting winter wardrobe (“Mother says CLASSIC is always best”). This from the girl whose mother knows Coco Chanel and who daily practices the fine art of carte blanche with her credit card.
But of all the months, November is my favorite. It’s everybody’s birthday: Hilary on the 1st, Eloise on the 4th, and Kay on the 9th (today!). In keeping with the times, we also learn Eloise’s mother has gone VEGAN.
Hilary’s drawings are deliciously frenetic, exactly how we’re used to seeing this little minx. I love the comic touches, as subtle as the way Eloise holds her fork while dining with Abe Lincoln, or as eye-popping as when skyscrapers lean over and pedestrians fly through the streets on a windy March day.
Knight also effectively balances Eloise’s hijinks with a few tender moments (Nanny and Eloise lying side by side on the beach or nibbling on chocolates for SWEETEST DAY in October). Hilary’s pictures remind us of why we find this wild child so endearing.
On Mother’s Day, she looks a little sad as she phones her mother, but is comforted by the “darling ensemble” she’s received from her. My heart goes out to Eloise when I see her studying a framed photo, with the words: “My mother says FATHER’S DAY is an INVENTION,” followed by “Nanny is my special comfort.” While we are busy fantasizing about Eloise’s pampered lifestyle, somewhere deep down, she just might be longing for a little of what we often take for granted.
The book ends with a mahvelous double page spread celebrating December holidays as well as two whole pages of stickers! Yay! Especially nice touch: Eloise has attached a pumpkin sticker to Nanny’s derriere. 😀
- Eloise Audio Collection read by Bernadette Peters: Complete, unabridged versions of 4 tales: Eloise, Eloise in Paris, Eloise at Christmastime, and Eloise in Moscow. Also available as individual book and CD sets. Click here for a sample listen. Ms. Peters is PERFECT as Eloise!
- Eloise Board Books: Eloise at the Plaza, Eloise and Friends.
- Ready to Read Boxed Set containing 6 stories.
- Eloise clothing collection by British designer Rachel Riley (a favorite of Princess Kate). Adorable!
🐢 ABOUT THAT BAWTH 🐶
Those in the know remember that in Eloise Takes a Bawth, Nanny is trying to get things spit spot because Mr. Salomone is coming to TEA. Well, of course things don’t go as planned — Eloise’s
bawth adventures on the high seas cause the Plaza to spring a leak, spoiling(?) plans for the Venetian Masked Ball in the Grawnd Ballroom below.
Just because Hilary, Eloise, Kay, and I all have birthdays this month, and because poor Mr. Salomone never got his tea, we thought it only fitting to have some today with chocolate cupcakes. 🙂
Here’s what I like
watching you sip and chew
Here’s what you should do
sip and chew
Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo we absolutely adore ELOISE!
HAPPY 6Oth ANNIVERSARY!
♥ MORE MORE MORE ♥
- Official Eloise Website (don’t miss the 1957 Eloise Menu created with Kay Thompson’s assistance)
- Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise Website
- Hilary Knight Website
- Eloise at the Plaza (click here for their Eloise Tea Menu!)
- Heads Up, NYC peeps! Hilary Knight and Bernadette Peters will be appearing at the Rizzoli Bookstore in Manhattan tonight, November 9, at 5:30 p.m.!
And now, Kay will play us out with her famous Eloise song. Listen to the voice that started it all:
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*Spreads from The 365 Days of Eloise posted by permission of the publisher, illustrations copyright © 2015 Hilary Knight, published by Simon & Schuster BFYR. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.