Eloise in Moscow
More Impish Fun? "Oh definitely Da"
by Holly Hartman
Guess what six-year-old said, "The Rolls is the only sports car I will drive in a Russian blizzard"? Yes, the same one who we first met pouring water down the mail chute in New York's Plaza Hotel. It's Eloise, touring Moscow with Nanny and Weenie, her "dog who looks like a cat." (Skipperdee the turtle was sent back to the Plaza on account of a nervous cough.)
Skibbling Through Russia
The newly reprinted Eloise in Moscow recounts Eloise's trip to the Russian capital. She visits Moscow's famous marble-and-tile subways and peeps through hotel room keyholes at night. After attending performances of the Bolshoi ballet, she does her own "rawther unusual" ballet in the street with three aged sweepers.
The book is peppered with references to the lack of privacy and inconveniences of life in Communist Russia. Eloise observes that, "Everybody can see what everybody's doing in Moscow," and that Russians "stand in line for absolutely everything." Zhenka, their official tour guide, escorts them with military efficiency, and careful readers will spot a fur-coated spy on each page.
A Long Time Coming
The Eloise books have been scarce for more than thirty years. Kay Thompson's Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-Ups was published in 1955 and quickly followed by three sequels. Eloise in Paris (1957) and Eloise in Moscow (1959) saw the city child wreaking havoc in other world capitals, while Eloise at Christmastime (1958) detailed her holiday fun atop the Plaza.
But author Kay Thompson withdrew the three later books from the market in the mid-1960s. The sole copyright holder, she claimed that the sequels did not live up to the original. Few agreed. After she died in 1998, the rights were returned to the publisher, and the four published Eloise books are now back in print. Thompson had also stopped publication of a fifth book, Eloise Takes a Bawth, after it was completed.
For a while, however, it was everything Eloise. After the books debuted, Eloise dolls and clothing became wildly popular. Eloise appeared in endorsements for luxury cars and high-end luggage. A celebrity-studded 1956 television musical presented Eloise's parents threatening divorce and her long-legged tutor romancing a Plaza maid. That same year, a hit song featured author Thompson as the voices of Eloise and Nanny.
During Eloise's heyday, the Plaza Hotel operated an Eloise ice cream parlor and offered children an illustrated Eloise menu, with such items as the "Skipperdee Sandwich" (peanut butter and jelly), "Smashed Potatoes," and "Milk, Milk, Milk!" For several years a room at the hotel resembling Eloise's own was open to visitors, and the gift shop sold a "Plaza Emergency Kit" that included turtle food and a "bubble gum resting block."
Behind the Brat
The voice behind Eloise was Kay Thompson, a legendary singer and showbiz personality who invented Eloise during a nightclub act. Friends insisted she turn the character into a book, and introduced her to a young illustrator named Hilary Knight. Thompson and Knight created the Eloise books at Thompson's Plaza Hotel apartment and on trips to Paris and Moscow. "It was absolutely great," Knight recalls. "It certainly wasn't work."
Readers today may be surprised to learn that Thompson felt strongly that the Eloise books were for adults. "Kay didn't care a whit about children," notes Knight. Although Eloise's voice may be Thompson's, she has elements of Knight as well, such as the round belly that hangs over her skirt. "I had a stomach like that when I was a little boy," Knight says. Weenie's appearance, however, was inspired by the pug dogs collected by the Duchess of Windsor.