Though she’s only six, Eloise may be among the most famous residents of New York’s swanky Plaza Hotel. The New York Historical Society has created a whimsical exhibition, Eloise at the Museum, to celebrate her literary tenure.
And the boutique show is a winner.
The brainchild of Kay Thompson, a renowned vocal coach and cabaret star, Eloise was initially part of her nightclub act. But such was the little girl’s charm, she debuted in print in 1955, two years before Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat.
And thanks to Hilary Knight’s superb illustrations, which brought Thompson’s vision to life, spunky Eloise was an instant hit.
The NYHS exhibit explains why with more than 75 objects that detail mischievous Eloise’s pampered life, including her dog Weenie —“I have a dog that looks like a cat” — and turtle Skipperdee. The exhibit opens with several original Plaza phones, where you can hear Broadway star Bernadette Peters, as Eloise, recount some of her adventures.
(An audiobook version of Eloise, narrated by Peters, was released in October 2015 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the series.)
It’s an adorable intro to an exhibit that has been thoughtfully curated. From a recreated bedroom to cases filled with Eloise’s toys, special belongings and specific portraits, “Eloise at the Museum” strikes just the right note.
The artistry of Knight’s wonderful drawings, which capture Eloise in all her adventures — from New York to Paris to Moscow — is evident throughout.
So popular was independent, irreverent Eloise, who admits to being a “nuisance in the lobby,” the Plaza cashed in on her fame. The hotel created a room on the top floor for visitors and a special phone welcome, voiced by Kay Thompson, as Eloise. They could also rent her special bike at Tricycle Garage.
Devoid of parental oversight, having only Nanny, Eloise gleefully poured champagne down the mail chute and rode roller skates in the hallways.
Of the original four books, only the first, Eloise, stayed in print. Once Thompson, who was fiercely protective of her copyright died, the books enjoyed a resurgence. Today, they’ve sold over 2 million copies.
For Eloise fans of all ages, it’s fun to be immersed in her indulgent life. And thanks to the NYHS’s excellent glimpse of her world, we can all, for a moment, revel in what it must be like to pick up a phone with abandon and utter: “Charge it, please!”
Eloise at the Museum, Through October 9
New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77 Street)