Service of No Room for Sentimentality in Business: The Plaza and Eloise

September 5th, 2017

Categories: Books, Hotels, Museums

The Plaza Hotel is for sale again. It’s natural for things to change yet it still makes me sad to see what’s happened to this landmark which launched a trend to transform legendary NYC hotels into condos. The Chinese owner of the Waldorf Astoria has followed suit: Condo owners, not hotel guests, are the focus of both former hotels.

In an article, “The legendary Plaza Hotel is, once again, up for sale,” on curbed.com, Amy Plitt wrote what she called the short version of the hotel’s ownership history: “Let’s revisit how the hotel got here: It’s had many owners over the years, including the Hilton clan and current president Donald Trump; El-Ad purchased it in 2004, and led the conversion of more than 100 of its hotel rooms into luxury condos. In 2012, Sahara Group purchased a majority stake in the company, valuing it at about $575 million. But things spun out of control quickly for the firm and its president, Subrata Roy; after defaulting on loans, Roy was imprisoned in India, and Sahara was said to be shopping the hotel around to help get him out of jail. (WSJ says he’s been out on parole since 2016.)”

Photo: theplazany.com

A memorable childhood birthday–tea in the Plaza’s Palm Court–and subsequent visits there in its heyday were always a treat for me as were weddings and posh business and personal events in the ballroom.

Fondness for the hotel and for its most famous fictional guest, Eloise, was why I visited–and enjoyed–the “Eloise at the Museum” exhibition at the New York Historical Society [open through October 9, 2017]. It was a charming celebration of the character, books about her as well as author Kay Thompson and illustrator, Hilary Knight.

Ms. Thompson was a piece of work and would have fit well in the self-centered, cutthroat business atmosphere in which some find themselves today. According to Wikipedia, “in 1964 Thompson was burned out on Eloise; she blocked publication and took all but the first book out of print.”

Wikipedia coverage about illustrator Knight—who at 90 writes, draws and lives in Manhattan–shed additional light: “The live CBS television adaptation on Playhouse 90 (1956) with Evelyn Rudie as Eloise received such negative reviews that Kay Thompson vowed never to allow another film or TV adaptation.” She didn’t care about the financial impact on Knight that closing down the book publishing element had. In addition to lost royalties for the Eloise books–he also illustrated Eloise in Paris, at Christmastime and in Moscow–while Thompson was alive he also didn’t see a cent for the illustrations he had created for “Eloise Takes a Bawth,” which was scheduled for publication in 1964. It saw the light of day 38 years later.

Do you have memories of The Plaza Hotel? Did you read the “Eloise” books as a child and/or to children? Is the Eloise appeal to NY children only? Why do some books capture generations of children’s attention–is it the story, the illustrations or a magical combination?

Tags: , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “Service of No Room for Sentimentality in Business: The Plaza and Eloise”

  1. Jeanne Byington Said:

    My first job out of the Parsons school of design, was at a medium sized advertising agency called Sackheim. They had some huge international accounts.

    Their offices happened to be located inside the beautiful Plaza Hotel. When we worked late, they told us to order room service. It was always elegantly served in sterling silver and was about $15 for a pot of coffee. And that was back in the mid 60s.

    Well one day this British rock band, called the Beatles, came to stay at the Plaza Hotel. Naturally it was swamped outside with teenage girls. We all had to be issued special passes… just to get into the hotel. There was a rumor that the Beatles reserved three entire floors but only lived in the middle one, to avoid any encounters with non-Beatle type folk.

    I was working there at another memorable moment in time… John F Kennedy’s assassination! Lots of memories.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    Few can beat your memories of the Plaza Hotel! Mine are mundane and ho-hum by comparison but reading yours triggered this one: I was waiting for someone near the front entrance years ago when a huge man surrounded by others walked by, swinging a camel hair coat over his shoulders. It was Donald Trump.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    No question about Eloise being a mega-brat backed by healthy financial resources. But, unlike Dennis the Menace, she’s a bright and resourceful one, so she’s worth an A++!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I also loved the Madeline exhibit at the New York Historical Society a few years ago. She wasn’t bratty, but I never tired of her as a character.

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    I love the book and have also shared it with many children over the years. I always think of the book Eloise herself as an adorable although indulged fictional friend and of “Eloise” the book with fond feelings of nostalgia for childhood memories of things real and imagined. The illustrations are absolutely essential to the charm and mystique of the book and at least as much responsible for its enduring charm as the protagonist and her story. It is terribly disheartening to learn about Kay Thompson’s distinctly unappealing character although it does sound less unusual today than it might have even a short time ago. I am not a New Yorker, but thought of the hotel as a legendary and beautiful place with an air of gentility until its acquisition by Donald Trump, which seems to me was a point of no return.

  6. Martha Takayama Said:

    I forgot to add that I hope to see the exhibit!

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I agree about the illustrations–it is Hilary Knight’s interpretation of Eloise that we remember while with another favorite series–the Madeline books–while I can envision Ludwig Bemelmans’ wonderful illustrations, I also remember some of the lines–“Miss Clavel turned on the light and said, ‘Something is not right!” etc.

    Kay Thompson was talented–an actor, a writer–and I wish she hadn’t been nasty but that bit of acid may have made Eloise such a memorable character. Unfortunattly, Ms. Thompson was–and is–not alone. The meek won’t inherit the earth.

Leave a Reply


Clicky Web Analytics