ELOISE The actress, au­thor, and direc­tor dis­cusses her new doc­u­men­tary about Hi­lary Knight, the artist be­hind the iconic ‘Eloise’ books.

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Lena Dun­ham fell in love with Eloise be­fore she was even old enough to read – formed an at­tach­ment so strong that, at age 17, she had the char­ac­ter tat­tooed on her lower back. When she later met Eloise’s illustrator, Hi­lary Knight, they be­came fast friends. “I am in­spired by women with power, style, and most im­por­tantly, imag­i­na­tion,” says Knight, now 88. “Lena has all those qual­i­ties in spades and nailed to the wall.” Their mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion led Dun­ham to pro­duce her first doc­u­men­tary for HBO, It’s Me, Hi­lary, which pre­miered in March and chron­i­cles Knight’s life and col­lab­o­ra­tion with Eloise’s au­thor, Kay Thomp­son. (The pair, as it turns out, were in­tro­duced in the 1950s by Knight’s neigh­bour, D.D. Ryan, then an edi­tor at BAZAAR.) Here, Dun­ham re­flects on her life­long fas­ci­na­tion with Eloise and the artist who brought her to life. “My ear­li­est mem­ory of Eloise is be­ing handed the book by my mother who said, “This is a clas­sic.” I sat on a stool shaped like a crayon, star­ing at the pic­tures, cre­at­ing my own words be­cause I couldn’t yet read. My mum would read it to me be­fore bed. I too had an Ir­ish nanny, like Eloise, so I ob­vi­ously thought the book was about me. In­deed, we do

Dun­ham’s Eloise tat­too share some char­ac­ter­is­tics : a pot­belly, a re­fusal to brush out hair, and a se­ri­ous author­ity prob­lem. Eloise’s most ad­mirable qual­ity is that she is a true and pure ec­cen­tric, with­out fear or pre­tense. Hi­lary Knight is quite in­sis­tent that Eloise will never grow up, but that doesn’t stop a girl from dreaming. I imag­ine that an adult Eloise has held on to her Plaza suite de­spite the changes in man­age­ment and that she writes comic es­says pub­lished in the na­tion’s top mag­a­zines, us­ing the pro­ceeds to fund a pug-and-tur­tle res­cue. She has regular din­ner sa­lons and shops al­most ex­clu­sively at up­town char­ity shops. Also, she’s prob­a­bly dat­ing a woman.

“I met Hi­lary be­cause he found out about my Eloise tat­too (my first! I got it on a road trip across the South­west with my fam­ily when I was 17). He sent me a card and some signed books, and I kvelled and con­tacted him im­me­di­ately. He in­vited me to his house for In­dian food, our shared pas­sion, and it be­came quickly ap­par­ent this man was as fas­ci­nat­ing as his cre­ations. I brought over my friend Matt Wolf, a doc­u­men­tar­ian I ad­mire deeply, to meet him, and they hit it off like gang­busters. It be­came the first of­fi­cial project of Jenni Kon­ner and my com­pany, A Ca­sual Ro­mance Pro­duc­tions. We are very moved and proud to share Hi­lary’s story.

“Of Eloise’s many wise ex­pres­sions, I have to say that my favourite is “An egg cup makes a very good hat.” It’s her way of say­ing you don’t have to take fash­ion so freak­ing se­ri­ously and of re­mind­ing us that there are a lot of dif­fer­ent and cre­ative ways to per­ceive one ob­ject or sit­u­a­tion.”

Lena Dun­ham as Eloise, with Hi­lary Knight

One of Knight’s il­lus­tra­tions

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