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Children’s books: Eloise turns 60

I am Eloise.

I am 6.

Eloise is a the darling of The Plaza hotel, and this year is a “rawther” large celebration as she will be celebrating 60 years skittering down the hall and getting into hilarious hijinks in the most famous hotel in New York with her dog who looks like a cat, Weenie, and Skipperdee, her turtle. “The Plaza is the only hotel in New York that will allow you to have a turtle.”

While her creator, Kay Thompson, is now known for her stories about Eloise, she never set out to be an author. She loved performing and was an accomplished musician who coached Judy Garland and many other singers at MGM. Her most famous role in Hollywood was for portraying fashion editor Maggie Prescott in the musical classic, “Funny Face,” basing her character on Diana Vreeland.

Eloise’s familiarity with The Plaza is due to the fact that when Thompson wrote Eloise in the early 1950s, she was living rent-free at the Plaza while performing in the Persian Room. It was after one of Thompson’s last performances there that she was introduced to the young illustrator, Hilary Knight, who had trained under Reginald Marsh.

In her account of how Eloise came to be, Marie Brenner says, “in the history of artistic collaboration, Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight would become as fused as Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel.” After Knight sent Thompson a Christmas card with Eloise atop Santa’s pack, Thompson knew that she needed to write Eloise down onto paper, and thus Eloise was born.

“Kay Thompson’s Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grownups” was published on Thursday, Nov. 17, 1955, and on Friday morning at 11:30 editor Jack Goodman ordered a second printing. Now, there are many more Eloise escapades, the most well known including “Eloise in Paris” and “Eloise in Moscow,” among others.

It is impossible to imagine Eloise in any way but how she appears in Knight’s iconic pen and ink illustrations. There is a mischievousness to Eloise. Knight’s illustrations show her as if she can’t sit still for very long, and his medium allows him to capture the energy and imagination of a 6-year-old, and the hustle-and-bustle of New York. She is in fact a very naughty 6-year-old, and this realistic depiction of children was new and fresh, especially in 1955.

After many years of Eloise, Knight marvels that “Eloise, incredibly, will remain 6 years old forever.”

From Thompson and Knight’s magic, so many children (and precocious grown-ups) have come to love and revisit Eloise’s 60 years at The Plaza.

And as Eloise would say, “Ooooooooooooooooooo I absolutely love The Plaza.”

© 2015 by Hilary Knight .

Website by Cathy Marshall Websites for

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