Category Archives: Skipperdee


Eloise’s portrait at the Plaza Hotel

In 1955, my publisher Simon & Schuster published one of the greatest, most joyful, most subversive picture books of all time Eloise by Kay Thompson with illustrations by Hillary Knight.  Eloise is a six year old girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York City with her Nanny, her pug Weenie and her turtle Skipperdee and she is impossible and wonderful and for the most part on her own in a world made for grown-ups while her parents are always away.  For me, it was almost like someone was telling my own story (the good parts at least) and Eloise became part sister, part role model, part best friend.

Kay Thompson (aka Katherine Louise Fink) was born in Missouri (just like me although in St. Louis not Kansas City) and became a singer, arranger, musician, songwriter, actor and, of course, author.  She started in radio as a singer and choral arranger and worked with Bing Crosby and later headlined with the Williams Brothers (Andy’s first introduction to the world).  She went to work for MGM as a vocal coach and choral director under the legendary musical producer Arthur Freed and worked with Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra while there.  Her only big starring film role was in the Stanley Donan musical Funny Face in which she played the imposing fashion editor, Maggie Prescott for whom Fred Astaire’s photographer and Audrey Hepburn’s model characters work.  She was loud and brassy and wonderful — just like a grown up Eloise.

In fact, when asked if her goddaughter Liza Minelli was the model for Eloise, Thompson, the longtime Plaza Hotel resident, famously replied, “I am Eloise.”

While that may have been true, by the time I was introduced to the books while living in the Dakota and having tea at The Plaza and scrounging hors d’ouvres off the coffee table the mornings after Mother’s parties on Park Avenue in the late 60s, I was pretty sure that Eloise was me.  And it was a great comfort.