Charm offensive from Bette Midler
Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe—or, more appropriately, Carol Kane and Louisa Bradshaw, who played the legendary actresses—had a lot of gasp-inducing revelations when we watched the stage productions, “The Lying Lesson” and “Siren’s Heart,” in New York.
In Booth Theatre’s one-woman gabfest, “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” Bette Midler dishes about Hollywood and its famous habitues—and proves why she is Tinseltown’s Divine Miss M!
Mengers was among the show biz industry’s most powerful super-agents in the ’60s and ’70s. It’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 wane—she’s losing her high-profile clients to “technocratic corporate entities,” like the then fast-rising Creative Artists Agency which, she says, is “mentored by Stalin. Oh, I meant Mike Ovitz!”
She shares 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, “in acting class, everybody was prettier than me—even the guys! So, why be a king if you can be a kingmaker?”
That fateful late afternoon, Sue patiently waits for the call of “my dear friend,” Barbra Streisand, her biggest client, to explain why even she has chosen to defect! After all, they’ve been through so much—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 Friedkin’s driveway until he agreed to let then unknown Gene Hackman try out for “The French Connection,” a role that later earned him a Best Actor Oscar.
Rise to fame
The super-agent has nasty things to say about Diana Ross’ rise to fame—and calls Steve McQueen “misogynistic and insecure,” 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 “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” she demonstrates how she “subtly” talks behind people’s backs to steal their clients: “If no one’s stealing your client, you’re doing something wrong!”
In “I’ll Eat You Last,” 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 monologue— 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.
Midler’s showmanship, charisma and rapport with the audience are amazing to behold. She can turn vulgar lines into purring words of endearment. Her presence is so electrifying that she gets away with anything, even when she forgets her lines—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 show—! But, Midler seemed so unaffected by her flubs that her adoring audience, this writer included, happily and conspiratorially looked the other way!
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