I’ll Eat You Last

You probably don’t know who Sue Mengers was. And that’s just the point, entertainment is here today and very rarely tomorrow. It’s evanescent, of the moment, and if you want to play, you need pluck, smarts and insight, this is one place a college degree doesn’t mean much..

I recently finished Lynda Obst’s new book about the movie business. Halfway through, I started to laugh. WHO CARES? As Lynda recites the various heads of Paramount I was reminded that who ran the studio once mattered. Today, movies are a joke. It’s all about television.

But it started with the flicks.

That’s how Sue Mengers learned how to speak English.

I thought this play was gonna be something different. A retelling of one of Sue’s famous dinner parties. I did not expect it to be a discourse on the entertainment business itself. I did not expect it to be so dense with insight that I was literally on the edge of my seat, sometimes too busy paying attention to burst out laughing at the jokes, which were plentiful.

You see it’s me.

I didn’t have a father in the business. Fairfield, Connecticut is not a hotbed of the entertainment business. I went to college in Vermont not only pre-Netflix and pre-Internet, but pre-VCR. My only link to the entertainment grid was “Rolling Stone,” which I devoured every two weeks, from cover to cover. That’s how I know so much about the music business. That, and reading the liner notes.

And how does one make it?

First you’ve got to move to New York or L.A.

Sue hated New York. Everybody looked just like her, a zaftig Jew, she needed to emigrate to the west coast, where everybody goes to reinvent themselves, and stays for the weather and the freedom.

But this was after getting a gig at William Morris. And lying about her position there.

Everybody lies. It’s how you get ahead in Hollywood.

But then she signs Julie Harris.

What did Bette Midler as Sue Mengers say? That being an agent is about the client. Julie was an intellectual, so Sue went to the library during her lunch hour to read the classics. It’s a service business. And if you’re not in front of the camera, or up on stage, you’re in service. Get over yourself.

She also said to make friends with the spouse. No matter how delusional and problematic they are. Sue couldn’t convince Ali MacGraw to make more movies unless she convinced her insecure, abusive husband Steve McQueen. And she couldn’t. Because Ali was happy.

That’s what some people are looking for. Happiness.

Sue Mengers was looking for action.

That’s how you can tell the difference. The person with the gleam in his eye telling you about who he just met, what he’s going to do, who lives to be engaged. The stars may sit at home waiting for a phone call, but not the service people.

It’s all business all the time. There’s nothing purely social in Hollywood. Every dinner, even the PTA meeting, is about business. And if it’s not about show business, those in it don’t care. Because careers are brief, and they want to stay on top, and because entertainment drives the culture.

Or at least it used to. Before Mike Ovitz and CAA. When it became about the deal more than the movie.

Kind of like the Tommy Mottola era at Sony, when it became about the executive as opposed to the artist.

And now the artists are just as bad as the execs. They can only talk about money. Spotify, Schmotify, if you make good music there’s plenty of money to be had. But music is not enough. Today you’ve got to be a BUSINESS! What a load of crap that is. Does Obama have a clothing line? A deal with Samsung?

Maybe that’s next, who knows.

I read an article two weeks ago that the rich are all about experiences. If someone’s talking about their car or their house, they’re not really that wealthy. Because the rich know what money can buy, which isn’t everything.

Kind of like Sue leaving money on the table. Because sometimes it’s about the movie, not the cash. And also being able to see not today, but the day after tomorrow. That’s what the wizards of entertainment service are so good at doing. If your representation is all about squeezing out the last buck, you’ve got the wrong person.

And speaking of the wrong person… Sue talks about how stars leave those who brought them to the dance because they don’t want to be reminded of who they once were. Once you start talking history, you’re on your way out.

There were so many lessons, so many truisms.

But today’s wannabes are sitting at home in front of computers. Believing if they just spam enough people, they’ll win. They’d be better off saving their pennies for a ducat to this show. They’d get five years worth of knowledge dropped on them in ninety minutes, but all the kids want to believe they’re inventing the world, that no one has been there before them. In our youth-centered culture age is decried, when it should be revered.

So if you want to have an experience, if you truly want to be rich, go see Bette Midler in “I’ll Eat You Last.”

It wore me out.

In a good way.

“I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers”

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