BootLeg Betty

Theater Review: Bette Midler delivers a live-wire impersonation

Beverly Hills Courier
George Christy Talks About Bette Midler, Sue Mengers, John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last, And More!
May 3, 2013

USA: 'I'll Eat You Last' Press Reception

A Hamburger she was. Her birthright. Hamburgers are natives of Hamburg, Germany. Immigrating to America, she didn’t lose time heading to Hollywood. Hired as a talent agency secretary, she manipulated herself into the upper ranks of agentdom. Our Hamburger was named Sue. In truth, a woman is a Hamburgerlin, but our Sue Mengers had the cojones of a bull. So Hamburger Sue it is. Her clients ranged from Barbra Streisand (who dropped her) to the O’Neals (Ryan and Tatum).

She’s on Broadway now in the persona of Bette Midler in John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last monologue that has critics falling over themselves.

Manhattan thrives on Hollywood “dish.” The New York Times’ critic Charles Isherwood found Bette’s “dishy” evening a “delectable soufflé,” praising her portrayal of the caftan-clad Hamburger Sue. Her biting wit, rudeness and profanity knew no bounds, as we experienced personally and live to tell the tale.

Will we ever forget her “before and after” phone calls, when we were writing our thrice-a-week column in the Hollywood Reporter. “Do me a favor,” she pleaded. “I know you’re invited to Jean Howard’s party for Diana Vreeland…” Diana being the then-fashion empress of Vogue magazine, now under the stewardship of media queen Anna Wintour.

Before we delve into the nitty gritty, here’s a bit of back story. Former Ziegfeld girl Jean Howard became a companion to MGM tycoon Louis B. Mayer, wed agent Charlie Feldman, the lothario who repped Greta Garbo, Bogart, Bacall, and other supernovas.

Charlie and Jean became hosts among hosts, and their soirees, long before our time, achieved legendhood. Word is that nothing compares with them today. Guests included the elusive Garbo, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire laughing and boozing and singing through the hours. Jean’s candid photographs documented the frivolty and appear in her bestselling Jean Howard’s Hollywood.

Jean’s invitation for the Diana Vreeland party (never only cocktails, always dinner), thrilled Hamburger Sue. Her first dinner at the art-filled estate on Coldwater Canyon.

About that favor: would we ask our pal Jean to send an escort to pick her up for the party. For whatever reason, husband Jean-Claude Tramont was elsewhere.

“Jean’s friendly with those handsome actors of all ages, and I’d love an escort to be young, blonde, blue-eyed and straight. Not asking too much, right?” she enthused over the telephone. May we mention that quote in our column when we write about the party? “I’d love it, be my guest.”

Well, the party came and went. Another grand success for Jean and her gift for hostessing. A heady brew of new and famous Hollywood faces, literati (Gore Vidal), local society, and a sloshed Diana Vreeland, vodka being her drink of choice. Which we fetched twice (“thank you, dear boy”), others fetching more.

We described the happy night in our “Great Life” column. On the morning of our published comments in the Hollywood Reporter, the phone rang. Shocked we were with the stream of vituperative language. Having served a three-year stint in Uncle Sam’s Army, we believed we’d heard it all. No way. Hamburger Sue topped our army buddies. A vulgarian to the max.

“A-hole … how dare you … a-hole!” she blasted over the phone. Filth followed. “You are one stupid ********* Who are you anyway, you ********** Don’t you know Hollywood’s loaded with gay actors, a-hole, and I want some as clients?”

Trying to calm her, reminding that she nonchalantly okayed us to be her “guest” about dropping the item in the Reporter. Aiming to convince her we didn’t hurt anyone, that the wisecrack was what it was, a wild screech of f-yous thundered in our ear.

Not a reader complained. In fact, we were on the receiving end of compliments. From her agency colleagues, who howled. Also from a Big Kahuna of a major law firm. Remarking to the Big Kahuna that we regretted upsetting her so violently, he shrugged, “Get over it, she’ll smoke a couple of joints, and forget everything by midnight.”

True, as it turned out, she was rarely without her weed. We glimpsed her next at Swifty and Mary Lazar’s inimitable Oscar night fete at Spago, greeting us with “Hello, darling!”

Thanks to the Divine Miss M., she’s now immortalized. Absent nearly 40 years from the legitimate stage, Bette Midler delivers a live-wire impersonation in her limited run at Broadway’s Booth Theater. New Yorkers are adoring her, with plaudits for director Joe Mantello.

Nonetheless, no nominations this week from the Tony Awards committee.

Speaking of Broadway, our stringers, Jolene and George Schlatter, back from the Big Apple, report that both Berry Gordy’s Motown: The Musical, and Kinky Boots, the Harvey Fierstein/Cindy Lauper showstopper, “deliver your money’s worth!” Not to be missed.

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