Bette Midler: Sheâ€™ll eat you last if you donâ€™t see her first
GOSSIP LIZ SMITH
April 29, 2013
â€˜Honneeeeee!â€ said the Hollywood agent Michael Black, kissing me Sue Mengers-style after the opening night of Bette Midlerâ€™s one-woman play, where she brings Sue back to life on Broadway.
Michael and I had made a pact to see the show separately and then meet the day after at Docks on 3rd and 40th, to dish about it. This guy is one of the worldâ€™s authorities on the late superagent who taught him, he sez, all he knows about representing talent. (Oh, I donâ€™t know. Michael was never as fan-impressed as Sue was and he wasnâ€™t ruthless. He is now a big biz adviser.) But he does do a mean imitation of Sue at her funniest and he was one of the many sources that the one and only Bette Midler went to for research. Bette loved Michaelâ€™s remembrances of Sue so much that she spent six hours with him beforehand, having him read the entire John Logan play aloud to her in Sueâ€™s own voice!
But then Michael and I had a few Margaritas in Sueâ€™s and Betteâ€™s honor and he told me, seriously, what I had perceived myself. Playwright Loganâ€™s take on Sue Mengers is more succinct, more serious while still being funny, more poignant and pertinent than any â€œimitationâ€ can be. And the great Bette doesnâ€™t do any campy impersonation. She delves into the character and behavior and profane outbursts and tears and overkill and sentimentality and love for â€œSTARSâ€ that bedeviled Sue in her upward claw to the top.
If you go to the Booth Theatre and buy a ticket, you will end up not caring whether you knew about super agent Mengers or not. You will see a Bette Midler recreation of a little girl, born in Hitlerâ€™s Germany, who escaped to America and dared to cross the playground to introduce herself to the pretty girl who was the school star! (She knew talent when she saw it!) And this little Jewish immigrant taught herself to â€œspeak Americanâ€ by studying Warner Bros. heroines like Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck.
Sue Mengers was a self-realized woman with lessons for all women. Pursue your dream. Improve yourself. Be loyal and fanatical at protecting the star. Lie for them; donâ€™t ever lie to them. â€œThatâ€™s not true!â€ was Sueâ€™s most repeated phrase as she instructed the rest of us to be as devoted, fanatical and hard-boiled as she became, dominating La La Land not-so-behind-the-scenes throughout the â€™70s â€” or until she more or less retired. (The playâ€™s setting, with Bette on a couch looking blond and glamorous like Sue, is set in 1981.) This was after Sue encountered CAA and Michael Ovitz introduced a new kind of tech-business to agenting.