Edit

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (8) | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (5)

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Died in New York City, New York, USA
Birth NameCatherine Louise Fink
Nickname Kitty
Height 5' 5½" (1.66 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Sleek, effervescent, gregarious and indefatigable only begins to describe the indescribable Kay Thompson -- a one-of-a-kind author, pianist, actress, comedienne, singer, composer, coach, dancer, choreographer, clothing designer, and arguably one of entertainment's most unique and charismatic personalities of the 20th century. Born in Missouri with the uncharismatic name of Catherine L. Fink, she would reinvent herself as Kay Thompson and become a real-life representation of Auntie Mame, living life to the hilt while sharing with that character an unabashed joie de vivre and "never say die" mantra.

The St. Louis born-and-bred celebrity was the second of four born to Austrian immigrant Leo George Thompson, a jeweler, and Hattie Thompson. Nicknamed Kitty by the time she attended Soldan International Studies High School in St. Louis, and (later) Washington University, she began playing the piano at age 4. Deemed a prodigy, she was performing with the St. Louis Symphony by the time she was 16. While this may have been a strong enough focus for some or most, Kay was not to be confined and decided to instead test her singing talents. Singing with local dance bands, she eventually blossomed into a band vocalist with the Tom Coakley and Fred Waring bands. At this juncture, she met and married one of her band's talented trombone players, Jack Jenney, but the marriage ended quickly. She also took to radio and sang alongside the harmony group The Mills Brothers. Eventually she was handed her own CBS-aired show entitled "Kay Thompson and Company". It was short-lived. Kay and the group did make a special appearance in the film Manhattan Merry-Go-Round (1937).

During the mid-to-late 1930s Kay recorded briefly such songs as "You Hit The Spot", "You Let Me Down", "Don't Mention Love To Me" and "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind", and toward the end of the decade was cast in "Hooray for What", a political revue, but was fired during the pre-Broadway tour. She never returned to the musical stage arena again as a result of that unhappy experience.

Arthur Freed became her ticket to 1940s Hollywood when he hired her as an arranger, coach and composer at MGM Studios. Such noteworthy films that utilized her multiple skills was I Dood It (1943), The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), in which she had a small role, Ziegfeld Follies (1945), The Harvey Girls (1946), Good News (1947), and The Pirate (1948). While vocal coach to such MGM superstars as Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra and June Allyson, Kay forged an extremely tight bond with Garland and was made godmother to first-born, Liza Minnelli. Also during this post-war stage of Kay's life, a second marriage to radio and film writer/producer/director William Spier also came and went. She never had children.

Always on the move, Kay decided to put together her own club act which opened at Ciro's night club in 1947. The singer/comedienne was a sensation with her Coward-esque brand of stylish eccentricity. Her unique, full-throttled blend of sophisticated music, outrageous satire and clever banter made her act a virtual "must see" among the industry's "who's who". Featured with her (in both musical and comedy sketches) was a talented harmony she discovered, the singing Williams Brothers, which featured a young Andy Williams. After a six-year trek the cabaret act was disbanded in the summer of 1953 and Kay spent time designing fashion slacks for long-limbed ladies backed by her clothing line "Kay Thompson Fancy Pants."

The reed-slim, silvery blonde was sadly underused in films, to the detriment of movie lovers alike, appearing in only four films with two of them being specialty cameos. In 1955, however, she nearly stole the thunder from under co-stars Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn as fashion editor Maggie Prescott in the musical classic Funny Face (1957). Her character, inspired by real-life editor Diana Vreeland was expertly showcased in the "Think Pink" number, one of the film's many highlights; Kay was a delight as well in other chic numbers in which she appeared with the stars. While this could have been the start of something big (as a top character player), Kay did not return to films until summoned by goddaughter Liza Minnelli for a featured role in Otto Preminger's Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970).

In 1958, Kay introduced another new successful side of her -- as a children's author. The best-selling "Eloise" series, which was sparked from Kay's own escapades and adventures, chronicle the tale of a precocious, pixilated 6-year-old who lives at New York's Plaza Hotel and turns the place upside down with her brazen antics. All four books were top sellers: (Eloise (1956); Eloise in Paris (1957); Eloise at Christmastime (1958); and Eloise in Moscow (1959)). A fifth book, Eloise Takes a Bawth, which came from a 1964 manuscript blocked originally for publication, was published in 2002. Kay's most enduring achievement, Eloise, finally made it to the TV screen after her death

In 1962 Kay served as creative consultant and vocal arranger for Judy Garland's legendary TV special with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and kept busy with various nightclub/TV performances of her own until she decided to leave the limelight. It was fashion icon Halston who lured Kay out of her self-imposed retirement for a time in the 1970s in order to stage his runway shows. She eventually moved, however, into Liza Minnelli's Upper East Side penthouse in New York City and, contrary to her larger-than-life persona, grew quiet and reclusive with the last decade pretty much confined to a wheelchair. She died at the penthouse on July 2, 1998 at age 88.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (2)

William Spier (November 1942 - 1947) (divorced)
Jack Jenney (1937 - 1939) (divorced)

Trivia (8)

Entertainer Danny Kaye often made gag appearances dressed up and made up to look like Thompson.
Godmother of Liza Minnelli.
She dreamed up her mischievous Eloise character during a 1954 singing gig in New York.
She once nixed Ivana Trump's offer to build an "Eloise" room in the Plaza Hotel.
Her first husband was esteemed Big Band trombonist/band leader Jack Jenney, who also play with Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw during his brief career. She later married William Spier, one of the top writer/producers of radio drama during its heyday. Both marriages ended in divorce.
On May 11, 2003, the late Kay was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Goddaughter Liza Minnelli, during her 2008 tour, devoted much of her performance to recreating Kay's famed nightclub act, using her trademark music.

Personal Quotes (2)

Failure is a stranger to me. Enthusiasm and imagination can carry you anywhere you want to go, without Vuitton luggage.
I've discovered the secret of life. A lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy and a whole lot of tra la la.

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page