By Patrick Pacheco | After a disappointing fall, the Broadway spring season received a jolt of welcome news with the announcement that Bette Midler, after a 30-year absence, would be returning to Broadway in the one-character play, “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers.” The show — about the Hollywood superagent who once repped a stable of A-list stars, including Barbra Streisand, Mike Nichols, Paul Newman, and Michael Caine — is being put together by a team of heavy hitters: director Joe Mantello (“Wicked”), writer John Logan (“Red,” “Skyfall”), and producer Graydon Carter.
Opening on April 24 at a Shubert house, the show will no doubt be a juicy excursion into the Hollywood Valhalla of ’70s where Mengers held sway with her take-no-prisoners negotiating style and Queen Bitch persona. “A bulldog with charm” is how Caine once characterized his agent, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany who grew up in poverty in the Bronx and eventually moved to Los Angeles where she discovered a singular talent to bend the male-dominated studio system to her will. Mengers and Streisand, who shared backgrounds as ambitious New York Jewish girls, were almost inseparable for a time until the superstar unceremoniously dumped Mengers in the late ’70s after the debacle of the film “All Night Long.” Although Mengers had negotiated a whopping $4 million salary for Streisand, it was bruited about Hollywood that Mengers had used the star to promote the career of her husband, Jean-Claude Tramont who directed “All Night Long.”
In a press statement, playwright Logan recalled that he had met Mengers only once at a dinner party and been fascinated by the wicked wit of the blond, pot-smoking diva in a kaftan and tinted glasses. There was as well “…a sense of sadness, a deep resignation; a woman whose time had passed her by,” said Logan. “At one point, I asked her what had changed most about Hollywood since she had arrived. She didn’t hesitate for a second: ‘Honey, we used to have fun…’” Mengers died, at 81, in 2011. But if you want to get a sense of her outsized personality prior to the bow of “I’ll Eat You Last,” there are a couple of movies whose flamboyant characters are said to be based on her: Dyan Cannon plays a version in “The Last of Sheila,” the 1973 mystery thriller by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim; and, Shelley Winters was said to have modeled her blustery agent after Mengers in the 1981 Blake Edwards film “S.O.B.” After seeing a screening of the film, directed by the husband of Julie Andrews, Mengers was said to have quipped, “May an alp fall on their house.”
Image: Bette Midler/Jamie McCarthy/WireImage