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Keene Thompson

Keene Thompson

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This angular, stylish and acerbic actress and singer also wrote some of the most beloved children's books of the mid-20th Century. Kay Thompson came a long way from St. Louis by the early 1930s, when she was an accomplished pianist and singer on the radio and in nightclubs. She had her own CBS show in 1935, and made her Broadway debut in 1937's "Hooray for What!" with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E Y 'Yip' Harburg. Although she suffered the devastating experience of being fired from the musical, Thompson bounced back by landing a spot at MGM as a musical arranger and vocal coach to such stars as Lena Horne and Judy Garland. By the late 40s, she was again popular on the nightclub and concert circuit.Thompson had appeared in the films "Manhattan Merry-Go-Round" (1937) and "The Kid From Brooklyn" (1946), but her film career really hadn't amounted to much. In 1957, though, she played the role which forever defined her: Maggie Prescott in Stanley Donen's delightful "Funny Face." The film starred Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, but Thompson, as a flamboyant magazine editor obviously based on Diana Vreeland, all but stole the film (her opening "Think Pink!" number is a high point). Thompson's only...

This angular, stylish and acerbic actress and singer also wrote some of the most beloved children's books of the mid-20th Century. Kay Thompson came a long way from St. Louis by the early 1930s, when she was an accomplished pianist and singer on the radio and in nightclubs. She had her own CBS show in 1935, and made her Broadway debut in 1937's "Hooray for What!" with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E Y 'Yip' Harburg. Although she suffered the devastating experience of being fired from the musical, Thompson bounced back by landing a spot at MGM as a musical arranger and vocal coach to such stars as Lena Horne and Judy Garland. By the late 40s, she was again popular on the nightclub and concert circuit.

Thompson had appeared in the films "Manhattan Merry-Go-Round" (1937) and "The Kid From Brooklyn" (1946), but her film career really hadn't amounted to much. In 1957, though, she played the role which forever defined her: Maggie Prescott in Stanley Donen's delightful "Funny Face." The film starred Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, but Thompson, as a flamboyant magazine editor obviously based on Diana Vreeland, all but stole the film (her opening "Think Pink!" number is a high point). Thompson's only other film was "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" (1970), starring her god-daughter Liza Minnelli.

Perhaps Thompson's most lasting contribution is also her most atypical. In 1955, she collaborated with illustrator Hilary Knight on the children's book "Kay Thompson's Eloise," the story of a wry, mischievous little girl who lives in New York's Plaza Hotel. The book became a sensation with children and adults alike, and continues to sell well. It was followed by the sequels "Eloise in Paris" (1957), "Eloise at Christmastime" (1958) ad "Eloise in Moscow" (1959). There was also a badly-received TV adaptation, "Eloise" (CBS, 1956).

Thompson appeared on the small screen only a handful of times, including the "Standard Oil Anniversary Show" (NBC, 1957) and the "Burke's Law" pilot "Amos Burke: Who Killed Julie Greer?" (NBC, 1961). She retired from public life in the mid-70s and lived thereafter as a recluse in Rome and New York.

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