New York Daily News
’70s superagent Sue Mengers lives again in a new one-woman play starring Bette Midler
The abrasive but brilliant Mengers’ clients included top stars like Barbra Streisand, Cher and Faye Dunaway
BY JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
UPDATED: SUNDAY, APRIL 14, 2013, 2:00 AM
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/70s-superagent-sue-mengers-lives-stage-article-1.1314981#ixzz2QRZpdFz1
John Loganâ€™s one-woman Broadway comedy â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Lastâ€ features two famous Miss Mâ€™s.
Sue Mengers is the Razor-Tongued Miss M and the playâ€™s subject. In the â€™70s and â€™80s she was the most powerful and abrasive female Hollywood talent agent. Her A-list clients included Barbra Streisand, Cher, Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Ryan Oâ€™Neal and Gene Hackman.
â€œShe was a fascinating real character I wanted to explore,â€ says Logan, whose credits include the James Bond movie â€œSkyfallâ€ and the Tony-winning Mark Rothko drama â€œRed.â€
His play is subtitled â€œA Chat With Sue Mengersâ€ for a reason. The woman had a mouth; she was fast and funny, blunt and blistering, ever quotable. Some of her famous lines have made it into Loganâ€™s script, which, he says, mashes fact, fiction and verbatim transcripts.
He ultimately cut one of his favorite Sue-isms from 1979. Mengers was stuck at JFK Airport on an L.A.-bound plane taken over by a female hijacker demanding that Charlton Heston read her manifesto. â€œCharlton Heston?â€ moaned Mengers. â€œWhat the f—, heâ€™s second-rate, I can get her Barbra Streisand to read it!â€
The play is set a few years after that. Streisand and other stars figure prominently as Mengers faces a personal and professional dilemma.
Logan met Mengers once. It was in 2008 at a dinner party celebrating the film â€œSweeney Todd,â€ for which heâ€™d written the screenplay. Two things struck him about Mengers (the â€œgâ€ in the middle is hard, â€œas in â€˜Mengele,â€ he says). At the end of the meal she had a glowing cigarette in one hand and a lit joint in the other. â€œI thought, â€˜Thereâ€™s an inescapable image,â€™ â€ he says.
Also unforgettable were her contradictions. â€œOn one hand, she was ebullient and feisty and ferocious,â€ he says, â€œjust like youâ€™d imagine from a quote, unquote superagent. But there was also a poignancy to her. The Hollywood that exists now isnâ€™t her Hollywood.â€ Sheâ€™d become defunct.
But what a trip to get there. Mengers was born in Germany, lived in the Bronx and worked as a talent-agency receptionist in the 1950s and â€™60s and then reinvented herself as the agent, if not den mother, to the New Hollywood talent. Along the way she made friends and enemies â€” often blurring the lines between each camp.
In 1973 Time magazine noted: â€œEven some friends regard her with the affectionate respect that they might accord a pet barracuda.â€
Actress Dyan Cannon knew Mengers as friend and as her agent. The hard-edged character, a talent agent, she played in the 1973 whodunit â€œThe Last of Sheilaâ€ was based on Mengers. â€œShe was tough, soft, determined, capable, victorious, vulnerable, strong, resourceful,â€ Cannon recently said about Mengers, â€œand a bit of a bully.â€
No argument on that score from Peter Biskind, who wrote the book on â€™70s cinema â€œEasy Riders, Raging Bullsâ€ and now contributes features for Vanity Fair. The magazineâ€™s editor-in-chief, Graydon Carter, a devoted friend of Mengers who was at her deathbed in 2001, is a producer of the play.
In 2000, Biskind spent two afternoons with Mengers, who smoked dope and drank tea, at her Hollywood Hills home for a VF profile. â€œShe was somebody who spoke her mind,â€ he says. â€œShe was unafraid to shock and say and do the unthinkable.â€
He learned that when he arrived at her home. â€œInitially she was very dismissive. She said, â€˜How come youâ€™re doing this piece? How come so-and-so didnâ€™t get the assignment?â€™ But I persisted and hung in despite the abuse and the harassment diminished. Later she sent me a generous gift basket from Zabarâ€™s.â€
Mengers left a greater legacy. Todayâ€™s power publicists owe something of a debt to Mengers and what she accomplished. That includes Leslie Sloane, who handles Katie Holmes, Liz Rosenberg, whoâ€™s been Madonnaâ€™s confidante and mouthpiece for decades, and Jill Fritzo, who juggles all the various Kardashians.
Logan says that VFâ€™s Carter gave him access to interview transcripts to use for research. â€œI had a cornucopia of her own brilliance,â€ he says. â€œI used as much as could.â€ Midler was his muse as he wrote. â€œLike Sue, to me, Bette is a delicious combo of ballsy and smart and incredibly poignant.â€
In other words, all too human. What he hopes comes through in the play is Mengersâ€™ â€œcomplexity and her courage. Even if the ice was cracking under her feet,â€ he says, â€œshe was going to go down with panache.â€
â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengersâ€ is now in previews and opens April 24 at the Booth Theatre.