Bette Midler on Broadway in I’ll Eat You Last
BY MELISSA SILVERSTEIN
MAY 6, 2013 2:00 PM
I’ll Eat You Last takes place on a fateful day in 1981 when Sue Mengers got the phone call that she was no longer representing Barbra Streisand. The two most powerful women in Hollywood were breaking up. Sue Mengers, for those who don’t know her (which is most everybody), was a German refugee who fell in love with the movies as a girl and then made her dreams a reality by becoming one of the most successful Hollywood agents during her reign in the late 60s and 70s. She only represented movie stars, that’s all she talked or cared about.
I don’t think there is anyone on the earth who could take on playing Mengers in the way that Bette Midler inhabits her. Sue was know for her muumuus, lack of interest in exercise and her love of cigarettes and marijuana. The play is basically an 85 minute monologue delivered from a couch. It is a Hollywood history lesson. It is about the years when people made movies for art and not commerce. Sue Mengers represented EVERYONE who was big. Ali MacGraw, Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, Ryan O’Neal, Faye Dunaway and so many more. But no one was more important to her than Barbra Streisand who she saw sing in NY when she was a nobody. She knew she was going to be a star that day.
I found the show fascinating because it was about a woman who had power in Hollywood at a time when women had so little of it. She used everything in her arsenal to be the best advocate she could for the people she represented. She was not only the most powerful female agent, she was the most powerful agent. Agenting was her life and her stars were her friends – or so she thought. The lesson of Sue Mengers is that Hollywood, is a business, and if you are bad for business even your friends will abandon you.
The stories that Bette Midler as Sue Mengers relays are those of power and status, but the woman in play is in a free fall. At the moment of the show she has lost a lot of her clients to Mike Ovitz at CAA who is talking bottom line and not relationships. The business evolved past Sue and it is hard to watch. It really is an interesting look at how the business shifted through a person who helped build the star system of her time.
For a very savvy business woman Mengers downfall was very personal. She convinced Barbra Streisand as well as Gene Hackman to be in her husband, Jean-Claude Tramont’s film All Night Long for which she was paid the highest salary to an actress at that time. Suffice it to the say the film did not do well; Streisand’s salary turned out to be higher than the whole film grossed. That failure helped trigger a mass exodus from which she could not recover.
This show will interest people who love Hollywood and the stories. But for those who are not obsessed with everything about Hollywood and its history, some of the inside jokes, names and language will seem strange. Bette Midler is still Bette but she is also Sue. In interviews Midler has talked about how she was afraid of Sue Mengers. It seems that lots of people were afraid of her. And that’s another lesson in this story that probably has a lot to do with Sue being so unique as a woman in Hollywood – she made people fear her. That was how she rose to the heights she did, she made people afraid to cross her. Until they all did en masse.
Clearly there are a lot of women who owe their careers to Sue Mengers, but ultimately she was a sad figure because all her friends were part of her work and she cared about nothing else but work. What it reminded me is the importance of having other things in your life, other people, other interests, other loves. Sue did not care about politics or cooking or kids or anything but her “twinkles” as she called her stars. But stars only get you so far. We all need to be more than our work and need other things in life because that is what makes us better at our work.