Kay Thompson is one of those Hollywood characters I'd catch glimpses of when reading the biography of a star of the Forties or Fifties. When slogging through, say, Judy Garland's third "It's going to last forever!" wedding it was easy to glance over at Kay and think she might be more interesting than the slow-motion train wreck in progress. Now Sam Irvin has put Kay in full focus and the results are generally entertaining even if Miss Thompson loses a bit of interest along with her mystery.
On the plus side we have a strong woman forging her own path in a male-dominated industry without sacrificing her dignity or her individuality. On the negative side we have Sam Irvin's unbridled prose. Irvin's ability to pack multiple cliches into a single sentence frequently put me in mind of air travelers who refuse to believe their extra large suitcase won't fit into the overhead bin. Behold:
"Somehow ... she managed to bury the hatchet, but it was a shallow grave on the edge of a slippery slope."
The book makes up for this by piling on the loony details that I find compelling. Who knew Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn had an affair? Who knew White Plains, NY once had a Bonwit Teller? Who knew you could ask your friends to help you paint tables with nail polish using those tiny little brushes? Irvin is at his best dishing the dirt. He's at his worst trying to convince readers of Kay's brilliance. I am sure my life span was decreased by the reference to Kay as "the Godmutha of Rap."
Ultimately Kay's story adds up to a long list of projects she didn't do. Literally. Plays she didn't star in. Movies she didn't make. Finally Kay takes on a major role as active godmother to Liza, supplying advice and "better gaydar" to her beloved goddaughter before coming a recluse. I guess excessive gaydar deployment will do that do you.