The life of the influential Hollywood agent.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, Sue Mengers (1932-2011) represented some of the most famous names in show business, including Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Candice Bergen, Ali McGraw, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Elliott Gould, and, most notably, superstar Barbra Streisand. Not only did she admire the singer’s talents, but the parallels of their lives—growing up poor, losing their fathers while still young, battling judgmental mothers—made her feel they were kindred spirits. As Opera News features editor Kellow (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, 2011, etc.) amply shows in this gossipy, star-studded biography, Mengers considered Streisand her “alter ego.” Chain-smoking, often with a Gauloises cigarette in one hand and a joint in the other, hard-drinking, and outrageously vulgar, Mengers was smart, savvy, and manipulative. “After a little while with her, people thought they were her best friends,” writes the author. New talent didn’t interest her; stars did, and she pursued them relentlessly until she gained their trust—and business. Unlike agents who kept a low profile, Mengers promoted herself as well as her clients, throwing parties for “top, above-the-title Hollywood stardom.” Those coveted gatherings, her bawdy appearances at premieres and nightclubs, and a profile in Vanity Fair made her as recognizable as her glamorous roster of actors, and she worked tirelessly to promote them—not just to get them parts, but also higher and higher salaries. In the 1970s, movie stars’ earnings were modest; by the time Mengers retired, they had grown to millions of dollars per picture. The author rightly points to Streisand’s defection as a turning point in Mengers' career. Streisand had been “the closest and most powerful reminder to Sue of her own exalted stature in Hollywood,” and when she left for another agent, Mengers was devastated and bitter.
Kellow, an admirer of Mengers’ spunk and achievements, serves her well in this deft, entertaining biography.