Kay Thompson, whose "Eloise" books charmed young readers with a 6-year-old girl's adventures at New York's Plaza Hotel, has died. She was believed to be 94.
Miss Thompson died July 2, said her attorney, Arthur E. Abelman. He said it was unclear to him whether she died at Lenox Hill Hospital or at her Manhattan apartment, where she lived with her goddaughter, Liza Minnelli.
Miss Thompson, the daughter of a St. Louis jeweler, was a singer on radio and then a musical arranger and composer in Hollywood before turning to nightclubs and, then, books.
Among the films she contributed to were "The Ziegfeld Follies" (1944), directed by Vincente Minnelli, and "The Harvey Girls" (1946), which starred Judy Garland. Her acquaintance with the actress and director led to Miss Thompson's lifelong friendship with their daughter, Liza Minnelli.
Miss Thompson also had occasional roles in front of the camera, notably as the fashion editor in the 1957 Fred Astaire-Audrey Hepburn film "Funny Face."
But she was best known for creating the fictional Eloise, the poor little rich girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel with her nanny, her dog and her turtle while her mother is off seeking the sun.
The character was created for grown-ups but attracted young readers, too.
Eloise endlessly roams the landmark hotel in search of adventure. She attends weddings, invited or not. She spies on debutantes as they dance in the Terrace Room. The morning routine includes helping the maid change the sheets, even if she doesn't ask for help.
"Eloise," published in 1955, led to an Eloise doll, a record, fashions, a TV special and three sequels: "Eloise in Paris" (1957), "Eloise at Christmastime" (1958) and "Eloise in Moscow" (1959).
The original is still in print, a perennial favorite among city girls, and has sold more than a half-million copies in the last 15 years alone.
Asked in a 1987 Associated Press interview the reason for Eloise's popularity, Miss Thompson replied: "Personality. She is a free spirit living in an enchanted world. She has so much to do and never enough time.
"People react to her rebellion and identify with her."
At one time, the Plaza had a room set up where visitors could speak to a woman posing as Eloise's nanny. In 1989, though, Donald Trump asked to use the Eloise character to promote the hotel, which the real estate tycoon had bought the previous year. Miss Thompson turned him down.
Miss Thompson got the idea for the book by horsing around. While touring as a nightclub singer, she used to entertain her backup singers (one was Andy Williams) and other friends by taking on the persona of a little girl, saying in a high-pitched voice: "I am Eloise. I am 6."
When she decided to turn those improvisations into a book, illustrator Hilary Knight collaborated to create the image of Eloise.
"To have hit a mark with the public," she said, "to have something which has given so much enjoyment, it's wonderful. That's the reason you do it."
Her marriages to Jack Jenney, a trombonist, and William Spier, a radio producer, ended in divorce. She had no children except for her fictional creation. "The interesting thing about children is that they're people," she said.
"Along the way, I think, I've discovered the secret of life," she told an interviewer in 1975. "I'll give you a few clues -- a lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy and a whole lot of tra la la la."