Always Engaging Eloise

It's been almost 50 years since "Eloise" made her first appearance and quickly became the most famous fictional guest at New York's Plaza Hotel, beloved by "children of all ages."

After the first book, the mischievous little girl's adventures continued in two books set in Paris and Moscow (during the cold war) as well as one about Christmas at the Plaza. Then she disappeared. But Eloise's author, Kay Thompson (also an actress-singer who starred in the movie "Funny Face" with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire), did have one more book up her very chic sleeve: "Eloise Takes a Bawth."

Still, Thompson was eccentric. Not only did she let all but the original "Eloise" books go out of print--despite their success--she also canceled publication of "Bawth" just before it was going to press in 1964. "She said she didn't like it," recalls illustrator Hilary Knight, whose adorably funny line drawings contributed as much to Eloise's impish persona as Thompson's words. "I agreed with her--I knew it wasn't as good as it should be."

Thompson died in 1998, and her estate allowed Knight to re-create "Bawth" with a text assist from writer Mart Crowley, an old Thompson friend. At long last, the new version of the last ill-fated book has hit stores. And Eloise is as naughty and precocious as ever. NEWSWEEK wondered what she'd be like as an interview subject. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Eloise, you made your public debut in 1955. How old are you now?

Eloise: I am still 6.

OK, whatever. Tell us, do you actually like to take baths? A lot of 6-year-olds don't.

Oooooooooooo, I absolutely love taking a bath. Or bawth, as Nanny, my mostly companion, calls it.

How did you--or your author, Kay Thompson--come up with the idea for this book in the first place?

We were skibbling all over Rome in 1962, with Weenie and Skipperdee. Weenie is my dog that looks like a cat. Skipperdee is my turtle. Skipperdee absolutely adored all the fountains and water. Rome is rawther famous for bawths, don't you know?

Rome, really?

My author was living at that time at the tippy top of a big palazzo. And she asked Mr. Hilary Knight to come stay. She wrote all night. He drew all day. They pinned sketches of me, Eloise, on a clothesline in the garden. It went on for absolutely months and months, for Lord's sake. Mr. Knight said it went on for four years.

In your new book, you spend most of your time in the bawth-I mean, bath. What are you doing all that whole time?

Well, I don't just take a bawth. I water-ski with Skipperdee. I fight pirates. I sail the seven seas. I'm in my bawth so long I could have ended up as shriveled as Skipperdee's raisins. It makes me chilly just to think about it. I think I'll call room service and say, "This is me, Eloise. Would you kindly send up hot cocoa and charge it please? Thank you very much." I absolutely love room service.

In the book, your clothes aren't as important as usual. But we've always wanted to ask you: why do you wear the same white puffed-sleeved blouse and black pleated skirt every single day?

It is not the same dress every day. Oh, my Lord, I have gazillions just like it in my closet. Once when I went to Paris, M. Dior designed a dress for me. He dictated it to his young assistant, M. Yves St. Laurent, who sketched it. It's white and flouncy. I could wear it to the Venetian Masked Ball. Oops!

Oops?

Well, I don't want to give away the story of my new book. But here's a teeny preview: Mr. Salomone--the manager of the Plaza Hotel--promises to come to tea with Nanny and me, and Weenie and Skipperdee. He's very busy getting ready for a big charity party, the Venetian Masked Ball. And then there is a teensy weensy leak from somewhere and ... well, oh Lord, you'll never guess what happens next.