Charm offensive from Bette Midler
By Rito P. Asilo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 3, 2013 | 11:20 pm
Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroeâ€”or, more appropriately, Carol Kane and Louisa Bradshaw, who played the legendary actressesâ€”had a lot of gasp-inducing revelations when we watched the stage productions, â€œThe Lying Lessonâ€ and â€œSirenâ€™s Heart,â€ inÂ New York.
In Booth Theatreâ€™s one-woman gabfest, â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,â€ Bette Midler dishes about Hollywood and its famous habituesâ€”and proves why she is Tinseltownâ€™s Divine Miss M!
Mengers was among the show biz industryâ€™s most powerful super-agents in the â€™60s and â€™70s. Itâ€™s hard to imagine an actress who could capture her sassy irreverence and bawdy humor better than Midler.
Set in 1981 in her luxurious living room, the play catches Mengers (Midler) at a time when her influence is starting to waneâ€”sheâ€™s losing her high-profile clients to â€œtechnocratic corporate entities,â€ like the then fast-rising Creative Artists Agency which, she says, is â€œmentored by Stalin. Oh, I meant Mike Ovitz!â€
SheÂ sharesÂ how she has reinvented herself from her heyday as a shy immigrant from Germany, how she quickly abandoned her ambition to become an actress, because, â€œin acting class, everybody was prettier than meâ€”even the guys! So, why be a king if you can be a kingmaker?â€
That fateful late afternoon, Sue patiently waits for the call of â€œmy dearÂ friend,â€ Barbra Streisand, her biggest client, to explain why even she has chosen to defect! After all, theyâ€™ve been through so muchâ€”ever since she discovered La Streisand in a seedy gay bar.
Mengers discloses how fierce and methodical she is as a manager: She blocked director William Friedkinâ€™s driveway until he agreed to let then unknown Gene Hackman try out for â€œThe French Connection,â€ a role that later earned him a Best Actor Oscar.
Rise to fame
The super-agent has nasty things to say about Diana Rossâ€™ rise to fameâ€”and calls Steve McQueen â€œmisogynistic and insecure,â€ especially after he stole Ali Macgraw from producer Bob Evans.
Then, when she takes a call from Sissy Spacek, who just won an Oscar for â€œCoal Minerâ€™s Daughter,â€ she demonstrates how she â€œsubtlyâ€ talks behind peopleâ€™s backs to steal their clients: â€œIf no oneâ€™s stealing your client, youâ€™re doing something wrong!â€
In â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last,â€ Midler, unleashes a charm offensive that fuels her deliciously breezy show.
Despite the elegantly designed palatial set, her character sits through most of her 90-minute monologueâ€” which is hardly an issue, because the irrepressible singer-actress has the audience in the palm of her hand from the moment she makes her grand entrance.
Midlerâ€™s showmanship, charisma and rapport with the audience are amazing to behold. She can turn vulgar lines into purringÂ wordsÂ of endearment. Her presence is so electrifying that she gets away with anything, even when she forgets her linesâ€”which happened twice when we watched a preview of the play last April 12.
The Divine Miss M asked the stage manager (who was offstage) for her lines during the showâ€”! But, Midler seemed so unaffected by her flubs that her adoring audience, this writer included, happily and conspiratorially looked the other way!