Sue Mengers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, NY, 1976

Sue Mengers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, NY, 1976

Sue Mengers


Sue Mengers emerged as a powerful Hollywood agent in the late 1960s and 1970s, a time of enormous challenges and transformation in the film industry, as independent-minded stars and directors took greater control over their projects, a tactic enhanced by the innovative work of agents like Mengers.


Sue Mengers (born September 2, 1932, in Hamburg, Germany; died October 15, 2011, in Los Angeles, California) became famous and successful in a profession that generally remains behind the scenes while aiding the success of others: the Hollywood talent agent. Yet her career’s narrative arc spans the classic chapters of rising from horrible trauma to notoriety; from one of the most profound tragedies of the twentieth century—the Holocaust—to one of the most decadent areas and periods, the 1960s and 1970s scene of Hollywood. In a field that demands negotiating skills both in terms of diplomacy and die-hard demands, Mengers’ savvy and acumen served her well, as did her startling sense of humor. The child of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States at the outbreak of World War II, Mengers worked her way up the secretarial ranks in New York talent agencies before moving to Hollywood and establishing herself as one of the leading and legendary talent agents in the modern film industry. Mengers succeeded to such a strong degree as a talent agent that she became a minor celebrity herself—so much so that in 2013 an entire Broadway show was dedicated to “Hollywood’s most outrageous superagent,” with Bette Midler starring as Mengers in the one-woman show “I’ll Eat You Last.”[1] In an otherwise male-dominated profession, Mengers became the first woman to achieve the kind of status only a few other agents could claim—icons such as Lew Wasserman, Myron Selznick, Mike Ovitz, and, more recently, Ari Emmanuel. “She gave meaning to the word ‘woman power’,” Hollywood talent manager Joan Hyler remarked upon Mengers’ death. “And the fact that she was a woman and fearless was quite extraordinary.”[2] Producer Karen Rosenfelt, of “Twilight,” credits Mengers with breaking the glass ceiling for many women in the industry.[3] Mengers herself, looking back years later, acknowledged her trailblazing role in the field but regrets having emulated what she considered typically male behavior: a rough, aggressive negotiating style. “I rolled in there like a tank. . . but in any revolution you have to do something to get their attention. Women don’t have to act like that these days.”[4]

Mengers emerged as a powerful agent in the late 1960s and 1970s, a time of enormous challenges and transformation in the Hollywood industry, as independent-minded stars and directors took greater control over their projects, a tactic enhanced by the innovative work of agents like Mengers. She acutely recognized these changes in the business practices of Hollywood and capitalized on them through the increased role negotiations played in setting up productions. In this regard, Mengers managed the careers of Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, Diana Ross, Ali MacGraw, Faye Dunaway, Cybill Shepherd, Sidney Lumet, Jonathan Demme, Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, Farrah Fawcett, and major new directors like Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin, and many others. She retired in the 1980s but continued to play a strong role in the social networks of the industry, hosting infamous dinner parties carefully engineered to stimulating effect by her lapidary guest lists. In the end, for all of the success and power she gained in her career, she regretted the lack of a productive legacy. Since agents don’t produce anything tangible—no screenplays or movie productions, only “deals”—she lamented the sacrifices she made to sustain her career, particularly the lack of a family.

Early Escapes: Family Background

Mengers rarely provided much information on her early life. It’s not clear why the otherwise garrulous Mengers remained so reticent about her family’s immigrant history or her childhood in general. Hollywood, at least the Hollywood of an earlier era, spilled over with immigrants who often told tall tales about their experiences, accentuating their rise to fame and fortune. Perhaps having created this charismatic character out of herself in Hollywood, Mengers preferred to leave the past behind. What little she did tell came out in a rather cryptic synopsis of a series of escapes, first from Nazi Germany and then from the strictures of a young woman’s life in the Bronx. Her parents George and Ruth Mangars immigrated to the United States from Germany with their only child in 1938, escaping the Nazis and the Holocaust.[5] They spoke no English upon their arrival, and apparently many years later Sue would still lapse into German on occasion.[6] When Mengers was fourteen years old, her father, struggling as an unsuccessful traveling salesman, committed suicide while the family was living in the small town of Utica, New York. Her mother, then a bookkeeper, moved with her daughter to the Bronx.[7] After high school, Mengers surveyed the bleak horizons of her small neighborhood and discovered that “the prospects for a girl in the Bronx were not splendid—marriage, or, with luck, a secretarial job.”[8] Mengers picked the latter route and headed to Manhattan.

New Opportunities for Talent Agencies

Mengers began her career in 1955 working as a secretary at the legendary talent agency Music Corporation in America (MCA). Talent agents had emerged in Hollywood in the 1920s alongside the rise of the major studios. Agents capitalized on the constant influx of talent—primarily actors, writers, and directors—to Hollywood, acting as gatekeepers for the studios (filtering out the most promising clients from the general fray) and negotiators for clients, in exchange for 10 percent of the negotiated salary. By the early 1930s, agents were a fixture in the business, maintaining steady relationships with studio executives in consultation over the availability of clients for productions. With rare exceptions, every actor, writer, and director (and some cinematographers and producers) had agents in the 1930s and 1940s.[9] In the 1950s MCA was the leading firm representing talent, with offices in New York and Hollywood, as well as Chicago, London, Paris, and other major cities. MCA covered film, television, music, and theater. It owned a television production company, Revue, which brought in more revenue on its own than the entire talent agency. But in 1962, after MCA purchased Universal Studios, the Department of Justice forced the company to close its talent agency, as a conflict of interest.[10] The move opened up the playing field for talent agencies in the 1960s. Mengers made her transition to one by joining the office of the smaller but successful Baum-Newborn agency. She earned $135 a week (roughly $973 in 2010 USD) as a secretary.[11]

In 1963, she became a full-fledged agent by setting up shop with Tom Korman, formerly an agent at Baum-Newborn, and two clients, Joan Bennett and Claudia McNeill.[12] Two years later, Mengers joined the theater department of Creative Management Association (CMA) in New York, then headed by two former MCA agents, Freddie Fields and David Begelman. She remained at CMA for almost nine years. Fields and Begelman allowed her to move to Hollywood to pursue deals for film projects. With the backing of this major firm, Mengers established herself as a forceful talent agent.

She quickly became a bit of a minor celebrity in 1970s Hollywood with articles and pictures of her occurring regularly in the local papers, in People, Ms., and Time magazine, and even an interview on television’s 60 Minutes (a first for a talent agent).[13] Short and fairly plump, with wavy blond hair and big, round glasses, Mengers possessed an expansive, boisterous personality that matched her atypical appearance for a talent agent. “Ms. Mengers,” as one journalist put it, “possesses the beguiling face of a sweet, innocent child and, upon occasion, the mouth of a truckdriver.”[14]

Mengers had a great talent list and the backing of a major talent agency. Those made her stand out. But she also had charisma that made her stand out as well. She was known for a vicious sense of humor. One wisecrack gets repeated over and over in profiles. After the Sharon Tate murders by the Manson gang in 1969, Mengers allegedly reassured a nervous client with the macabre pledge, “Don’t worry, honey. Stars aren’t being murdered. Only featured players.”

Mengers’ career soared shortly after her two bosses—Freddie Fields and David Begelman—left the agency business to pursue careers in film production. Rumors had been circulating for at least a year that the two top agents had been considering a move into a studio executive position or heading their own production companies. In 1975, Begelman was hired to run Columbia Pictures, which had been on the cusp of bankruptcy after losing $50 million in 1973.[15] Fields began his way out by accepting an offer from Marvin Josephson Associates and his International Famous Agency to buy out Fields’ Creative Management Associates. Josephson paid $6.10 a share for CMA, valued then at only $3.25.[16] The deal and merger between the two companies in 1975 created a firm—renamed International Creative Management (ICM)—that now rivaled the William Morris Agency, the oldest and largest in the business. The new firm would now have 125 agents compared to Morris’s 139. Finally, in June, Fields announced his departure from CMA and the establishment of his own production company (financed by Paramount Studios). A few other major agents at CMA made transitions to studio executive positions that year as well.[17] The corporate reshuffling and numerous departures essentially meant that Mengers was now the biggest agent at ICM. Reflecting this new stature, Mengers garnered a new contract reportedly granting her $600,000 a year.[18]

Mengers’ career was magnified by major changes occurring in the film business, ones that provided an increasingly prominent role for talent agencies. In the 1960s, the mainstream film industry struggled to sustain its level of productions. Big-budget films failed to return profits. Foreign art cinema maintained a competitive market for youth and sophisticated audiences. Films like The Graduate (1967), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Easy Rider (1969) reflected new changes in the style and content of films. As she moved up the ranks of CMA, Mengers would hook many of the young talent working on these groundbreaking films, artists like Faye Dunaway, Peter Bogdonavich, Gene Hackman, and William Friedkin.

Accompanying these changes in film style were changes in the economic practices, ones that gave agents like Mengers a stronger role in the business. In the 1930s and 1940s, the era of the classical Hollywood studio system, a handful of major studios dominated the industry, maintaining a monopolistic control over production, distribution, and exhibition. By arranging for tough deals with theaters, some of which they owned, the studios had a guaranteed outlet for their product. Thus, the studios placed talent under long-term contracts to insure their availability for productions. After a long-standing investigation into these practices, and numerous court cases, the Department of Justice forced the studios to sell off their holdings in exhibition and banned monopolistic distribution deals. The studios responded by greatly reducing their output and letting go of long-term contracts. After the 1950s more and more stars negotiated short-term deals. By the 1960s, this practice became routine, along with the increasing growth of independent production companies. Stars could negotiate for much higher salaries and better terms on individual films. This trend grew stronger in the late 1960s and 1970s while the studios grappled with new film styles and audiences. The studios found themselves searching for new young talent, a position that enhanced the bargaining position for powerful agents like Mengers. As film historian David Cook noted, “the new power of agents stemmed from the studios’ diminishing role as developers and hands-on producers—as opposed to financiers and distributors—of new projects.”[19] In other words, Mengers’ own ambition in moving up through firms like CMA occurred at the same time as talent agents were magnifying the power of their position in the film industry.

A Star Agent and Her Clients

Early in her career with CMA, Mengers targeted director Peter Bogdanovich as a potential client when the filmmaker had just completed an obscure yet well-reviewed first film. This tactic exhibited a typical trait of agents in scooping up talent who had already proven themselves at a certain stage—in this case, directing a feature film. Never, as Mengers herself admitted, would an agent, at least one of her stature, gamble on an unproven artist. In this case, Mengers (or someone at CMA) noticed a review by Charles Champlin praising Bogdanovich’s first film Targets (1968) and approached the director to propose representation. Attaching herself to Bogdanovich—and vice versa—Mengers parlayed this relationship into the success of Bogdanovich’s next film The Last Picture Show (1972), which began to garner raves, even before its release.

In another move, typical of savvy talent agents, Mengers linked up Bogdonavich with two of her firm’s other clients, Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand on What’s Up Doc? in 1972. This “package”—as the process began to get categorized and recognized in the business—cemented Mengers’ reputation. “Packaging” signified the power of agencies as it more or less defined studios as mere bankers, with agents doing all of the creative work of finding a screenplay and attaching the right talent to the project, a process formerly entirely controlled by the studios. Although Mengers often dismissed the description of her work as packaging, this particular deal signified her authority and proficiency. At the time, Freddie Fields and David Begelman, the heads of the CMA firm, handled Streisand. Mengers got her to see an advance screening of Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, which Streisand loved. These developments occurred while Bogdanovich was pitching another picture to Hollywood studio executives who had also picked up on the buzz around Picture Show.[20] In addition, Mengers had signed Ryan O’Neal a few months before the release of Love Story, the 1970s melodrama that would make him a star and for which he only received $22,500. In Mengers’ deal for Doc, O’Neal received $300,000.[21] The success of What’s Up Doc? with the team—Streisand, O’Neal, and Bogdanovich—only added to Mengers’ reputation.

Mengers also represented Bogdanovich discovery Cybill Shepherd after her screen debut in The Last Picture Show. Bogdanovich eventually married Shepherd and made two more films with her. After the success of Paper Moon, Mengers and Bogdanovich were looking for projects for the director to team again with Shepherd. Bogdanovich picked the Henry James novella Daisy Miller, a role that would certainly challenge the young actress’s talent.

Indeed, another Mengers client, William Friedkin, balked at the casting. Mengers had helped Bogdanovich and Friedkin set up an independent production company named plainly or pretentiously The Directors Company. As Friedkin recalled, “the next thing I know was that Peter was making Daisy Miller, starring his girlfriend who had no discernible acting ability whatsoever.”[22] The film was a huge commercial and critical flop. Mengers laid the blame not only on Shepherd’s failings but also on the film’s two male leads. “I begged him, said, ‘Peter, this is a romance,’” Mengers claimed, “but he resisted. He always protected himself against attractive leading men opposite Cybill, with actors he could feel superior to unless he could make them look like him, the way he put glasses and a hat on Ryan in What’s Up, Doc?[23]

Nonetheless, Mengers was able to negotiate strikingly strong terms for Bogdanovich’s next film, At Long Last Love, at Fox. Despite the failure of the period piece of Daisy Miller, Fox agreed to finance the director’s equally risky new film, a musical set in the 1930s, with a number of Cole Porter songs (including the titular song). Mengers negotiated for Bogdanovich to receive $600,000 to write, direct, and produce, plus 25 percent of the profits.[24] The film cost $5.5 million and starred Mengers clients Cybill Shepherd and Burt Reynolds, as well as Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan.

Mengers recalled attending an out-of-town preview of the film to test and gauge the audience response. “The audience was silent,” according to Mengers. “Afterward, we went up to Peter’s suite, and everyone was telling him how well it went. He said, “Yeah, did you hear them laughing?” It was like the emperor’s new clothes. I said, “‘Peter, that audience was not laughing.’ He became really angry at me, so angry that I left. By that point, Peter didn’t want to hear the truth. You couldn’t talk to him, he was beyond communicating, he was in a world where he only wanted to talk to people who agreed with him and told him how great he was.”[25] Despite the potential gainsay of hindsight here, Mengers’ recollection remains very likely accurate. Press reports and the testimony of her friends point to her blunt honesty as both an irritant and an admirable attribute of the agent. At any rate, the movie was another failure.

In addition to struggling with and for work for Bogdanovich, Mengers had to find another role for Shepherd. She observed that Bogdanovich tended to steer his wife away from other films. Mengers struggled to get her out of Bogdanovich’s reigns. “Because whenever there might be a possibility of a movie, Peter would always say, ‘No, no, no. I’m getting ready to start mine next week.’ Not that there was much demand for her,” Mengers recalled.[26]

Mengers had heard that writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese were looking for what they kept referring to as “a Cybill Shepherd type” for a role in their forthcoming production Taxi Driver. The talent agent pounced on the opportunity as a chance to revitalize Shepherd’s career. “At that time, after Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love, she was so cold she had icicles forming on her body,” recalled Mengers with typical frankness.[27] Mengers pitched her client to Scorsese, “I hear you’re looking for a Cybill Shepherd type. Why don’t you hire Cybill?” Although Scorsese informed Mengers that they couldn’t afford Shepherd, the agent took exactly what they could offer: $35,000. Mengers’ logic here again shows the keen calculation necessary to the strategies of a successful agent. Mengers banked on the fact that the reputation of the film and other talent could rub off on Shepherd.

When it came to selecting projects, despite the strong incentive of her 10 percent commission on her client’s salaries, Mengers remained committed (or at least claimed to) to her client’s desires. For example, Gene Hackman consistently rejected the leading role proposed to him for a now-forgotten film called Lucky Lady; but the studio kept offering him more and more money. As Mengers explained with her trademark savage wit, “everyone has his price. I mean, it wasn’t as though he was being asked to exterminate people.”[28] Finally, the studio offered Hackman a sum that he couldn’t refuse.

On the other hand, clients didn’t always follow Mengers’ advice. “Sometimes clients don’t help. Faye Dunaway didn’t want to take Network,” Mengers recalled. “She just didn’t feel like working at the time. I sat her down and told her I could no longer represent her if she didn’t do this film, because I could never get her a better script, director, or leading man.” Mengers proved correct in this case, as the film garnered critical and commercial support, and won Dunaway an Academy Award for Best Actress. Even then, Dunaway eventually left Mengers. “Our relationship never repaired,” Mengers reflected. “She just didn’t like me, and I didn’t like her.”[29]

But Dunaway’s departure was a sign that Mengers’ star power as an agent was waning. By the late 1970s and the early 1980s a number of other major stars left Mengers: Burt Reynolds, Diana Ross, Ali MacGraw, and, most devastatingly, Barbra Streisand. Ross abandoned Mengers because she couldn’t get Ross parts. MacGraw jumped ship allegedly because Mengers made her feel in need of a facelift.[30]

In 1981 Streisand left Mengers for reasons that were reported on widely in the Hollywood trades and the press, another story repeated in almost every profile of Mengers thereafter. The story gained traction because it illustrated some of the tricky ethics involved in the advice given by agents in general, and Mengers in particular. As the tale goes, Mengers’ husband Jean-Claude Tramont, whom she had married in 1973, was about to direct his first American film All Night Long, set to star Lisa Eichhorn and Gene Hackman. The story revolved around a woman who falls in love with a humdrum drugstore manager. The latter character was the center of the film. Five weeks into production, Eichhorn dropped out, and Mengers convinced Streisand to take over the role. As Frank Rose notes, “the move was surprising on several counts—Streisand replacing another actress, Streisand in a picture she hadn’t developed, Streisand in a subordinate role.”[31]

Although Streisand took second billing to Hackman, Mengers managed to get her $4 million[32] plus 15 percent of the gross. The film was a critical and commercial flop—only critic (and Streisand confidante) Pauline Kael raved about the film. The second billing and the film’s failure probably added to Streisand’s disappointment with Mengers. But rumors circulated that Mengers claimed her standard 10 percent commission on Streisand’s salary, even though the actress took the part as a personal favor. Before the production ended, Streisand left Mengers and signed with Stan Kamen at the William Morris Agency.

Professionally, Streisand’s departure signified a potent dilution of Mengers’ reputation within the industry. Personally, Streisand’s departure must have retained a particular poignancy for Mengers, as Streisand had been maid of honor at the agent’s wedding. Mengers admitted, in another context, “It’s so humiliating and so personal when a client leaves an agent. When a producer can’t get a picture made, he just says the material isn’t right. But when an actor leaves his agent, it’s because you’re not good enough. It’s like getting fired, and it can happen umpteen times a year.”[33]

Retirement and Return

In early 1986, Mengers resigned from her position at ICM and publicly announced a trial retirement. “After twenty years as an agent, I feel entitled to take time out. As an anniversary present to myself, I want the luxury of a long pause before determining the future course of my career.”[34] Rumors circulated about Mengers possibly moving into production. But she genuinely treated the time off as a vacation, traveling extensively with her husband; they split their time between their Beverly Hills home and an apartment in Paris. She maintained a social life with no attachments to the film business.

Surprisingly, only two years later, in 1988, Mengers accepted an offer from the William Morris Agency to become their senior vice president, worldwide head of the motion picture and literary division. The Morris agency sought out Mengers to fill the gap left by the recently deceased Stan Kamen, a major figure in the business. However, when she arrived at Morris, one of the agency’s biggest agents left the very same day, in a dispute over terms (and possibly the firm’s failure to promote him for the position taken by Mengers). Ed Limato terminated his contract and took three of his (and the firm’s) biggest clients with him: Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, and Michelle Pfeiffer.[35] Ironically, Limato left for ICM, Mengers’ former firm, while Mengers took Limato’s old office at Morris.

When she returned to the agency business, industry insiders and observers expressed skepticism about Mengers’ capacity to catch up to the business she had left. Her doubters pointed out that the business had changed significantly in many ways as well. The Los Angeles Times, for example, ran an article bluntly titled “Will Mengers Need to Adjust Her Style?” The article mentioned her notorious frankness, tough talk, foul language and brash humor, and noted that Mengers “might have to learn some new rules of battle if she plans to dominate the Hollywood celebrity circuit as she did in the 1970s.[36]” Hollywood worked in a more business-like manner in the 1980s, typified by Mike Ovitz—Armani suits, power lunches, and meetings. At Creative Artists Agency (CAA), another competitor, agents worked in teams to handle their clients. They traded and pooled information on clients, working in consultation with accountants and lawyers, unlike the more freewheeling approach of Mengers’ heyday in the 1970s.

In addition, Hollywood moved at a more rapid and complicated pace than it had a decade earlier, in Mengers’ prime; phone-calls and legal meetings dominated the practice far more than the social parties in the 1970s (at which Mengers consumed copious amounts of pot). “Everything moves so fast now. One person just can’t do it,” noted James Berkus of the rival Leading Artists Agency.[37]

The Morris agency also expected Mengers to bring in new clients. Her former clients had moved on, of course, after her retirement. Many of them were happy with their new relationships; some may have been skeptical about re-signing with her, given her recent retirement. She tried signing new clients but blamed the Morris agency for her failures. “The reputation of William Morris was such that people would flee from it,” she claimed later.[38] “Many of my past clients, like Christopher Walken and Farrah Fawcett and Jonathan Demme, had fled in horror from William Morris and weren’t interested in coming back again.”[39] She managed to sign Richard Pryor, a star struggling to regain some of the status he achieved in the 1970s. She lured back Christopher Walken, who had actually left Morris in the 1970s to be with Mengers at ICM, but who was hardly a big box office draw. She also signed Treat Williams, an ICM client without any box office clout.[40]

Regular agency meetings turned into a ritual of Mengers ticking off names of unsigned clients. “Let me tell you who turned me down this week,” Mengers would allegedly begin.[41] Then she would list a number of names: Goldie Hawn, Sidney Lumet, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, and so forth. When Mengers clearly failed to reestablish herself in the business and take a prominent leadership role at the agency, her reputation and charisma seemed to evaporate in the industry. Her failure to reignite earlier connections to studio executives and relationships with former clients may not account entirely for the shortcomings in her new position—structural decisions by the Morris board also limited her power. For example, the board retained approval of hiring and firing, restraining Mengers’ autonomy in that regard. Likewise, the board did not allow her to set salaries or bonuses for agents and turned down her proposal to put certain agents under long-term contracts.[42]

In 1989, Forbes ran an article on the William Morris agency titled “Living Off the Past.” It presented a corporation that had grown complacent and out of touch with modern Hollywood, a distant third to leading more innovative agencies like ICM and CAA. More damningly for Mengers, it laid much of the blame for the agency’s shortcomings on its lack of strong leadership: “Cut through the details of Morris’ decline and what do you find? A vacuum at the top….William Morris has never found an adequate replacement for Abe Lastfogel.”[43]

Not surprisingly, within a year, the Morris board let Mengers go. She later admitted that her own lack of passion likely played a role in her failed tenure at Morris. “I tried to play the part of the enthusiastic agent, but the juice was gone. My specialness was always my total love of talent. That thing was gone.”[44] This would be her real retirement.

Conclusion: The Social Network

In 1992, rumors circulated about Mengers being offered $1 million to write a book about her career. Mengers denied them, “It would be difficult to write about what I know—my life, my friends, my enemies, my clients. And maybe a million dollars just isn’t enough.”[45] Yet Variety reported in December of that year that Mengers had signed with agent Sam Cohn at ICM to represent her proposed book project. Nothing ever came of it. Her husband Jean-Claude Tramont died in 1996 and Mengers underwent a quadruple bypass in 1997.

Yet she continued to host exclusive dinner parties with stars from her own glory days as an agent mingling with new stars from film, music, and television. Her friend Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, encapsulates this period as “Agent Sue became Hostess Sue—and she was even more successful in her new vocation.”[46] He describes the dinner parties as modern “salons” with friends like Fran Lebowitz, Frank Rich, Lorne Michaels, and Maureen Dowd mingling with Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand (still friends apparently), David Geffen, and other stars. Carter describes these events as “like stepping into the Hollywood you imagined but almost never experienced.”[47] Part of this impression surely came from her house, a 1959 Hollywood Regency design by John Elgin Woolf. Roman columns circled around an oval swimming pool with the house running around the pool in a C-shape, sliding glass doors bringing the airy, decadent outdoor area shimmering into the interior.

Mengers died after a series of small strokes on October 15, 2011, in her Beverly Hills home, with friends Ali MacGraw, Joanna Poitier, and Boaty Boatwright at her side. Her final years sounded like nothing but star-filled parties with great homage paid to Mengers. Yet when the writer Susan Orlean profiled the legendary agent in 1994 for the New Yorker, Mengers expressed regrets about her life. “I thought being an agent was better than being President of the United States,” she told Orlean. “I couldn’t imagine more to life than getting a good part for Nick Nolte.”[48] But her devotion to the craft left her with little to show for it, aside from her luxurious house and enduring dinner parties. “I didn’t think I could both be a great agent to Barbra Streisand and be a mother to a kid. I chose Streisand. I wouldn’t choose Streisand if I could do it again.”[49]


[1] Also see (accessed April 11, 2013). Dyan Cannon played a character strongly based upon Mengers in the 1973 film The Last of Shiela.

[2] Quoted in Dawn C. Chmielewski and Amy Kaufman, “Sue Mengers Dies at 79; Top Talent Agent,” Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2011.

[3] Ibid.

[4] As quoted in Elaine Dutka, “Sue Mengers Broke the Rules—and it Worked,” Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1993.

[5] Cf. United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. Utica, Oneida, New York;Roll:T627_2860;Page:8A;Enumeration District:67-15A. It is not clear when the name changed from Susi Mangars to Sue Mengers.

[6] As told by Gore Vidal, quoted in Paul Rosenfield, “Sue Mengers: The Agent Who Roared: She’s on Sabbatical From Stars, Power and Hollywood . . . Can It Last?” Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1987.

[7] From numerous clippings contained in the archival folders “Sue Mengers,” General Biography files, Margaret Herrick Library, the research facility of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (hereafter AMPAS).

[8] “Dialogue on Film: Sue Mengers,” American Film, November 1976, 33-48.

[9] On the rise of talent agents in Hollywood, see Tom Kemper, Hidden Talent: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

[10] For more on the rise of MCA, see Kemper, Hidden Talent, 217-238.

[11] Unless otherwise noted, all 2010 USD valued calculated by using MeasuringWorth (accessed March 18, 2013).

[12] “I never thought in my life I’d get a shot at being a talent agent—or even get out of the secretarial mold,” Mengers recalled in a 1993 interview. “We’re talking 30 years ago. The only female role models around were literary agents wearing hats.” Quoted in Elaine Dutka, “Sue Mengers.”

[13] “Sue Mengers” folder, General Biography files, Margaret Herrick Library, AMPAS.

[14] John Heilpern, “Caftan Confidential,” Vanity Fair, March 2009, (accessed April 12, 2013).

[15] Frank Rose, The Agency: William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 338. This would equal roughly five times as much in 2010 USD, see MeasuringWorth (accessed April 12, 2013).

[16] Rose, 339.

[17] The numbers on Morris and CMA come from Rose, 339.

[18] Bettijane Levine, “Sue Mengers,” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1978. This figure would be equivalent to more than $2 million in 2010 USD, seeMeasuringWorth (accessed April 12, 2013).

[19] David Cook, Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970-1979 (New York: Scribner’s, 2000), 342.

[20] “Sue Mengers,” Hollywood Reporter, October 28, 2011, 19.

[21] Rose, 341.

[22] Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 212.

[23] Biskind, 213.

[24] Biskind, 275.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Biskind, 276.

[27] Biskind, 299.

[28] “Dialogue on Film: Sue Mengers,” American Film, November 1976, 36.

[29] “A-List: Art of the Deal,” W (magazine insert, Hollywood Reporter), February 2006, 178.

[30] People Magazine, March 23, 1981, 49.

[31] Rose, 382.

[32] More than $9.5 million in 2010 USD, see MeasuringWorth (accessed April 12, 2013).

[33] “A List: Art of the Deal,” W (February, 2006), 178.

[34] “Agent Mengers Resigns From Her Position at ICM,” Hollywood Reporter, March 4, 1986, 4.

[35] Rose, 431.

[36] Michael Cieply, “Will Mengers Need to Adjust Her Style?” Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1988.

[37] Cieply, 1.

[38] Susan Orlean, “After the Party,” The New Yorker, March 21, 1994, 187.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Rose, 439.

[41] Rose, 435.

[42] Ibid.

[43] “Living Off the Past,” Forbes, June 12, 1989, 48-52.

[44] Orlean, 18.

[45] Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1992. Clipping contained in the “Sue Mengers” file, General Biography files, Margaret Herrick Library, AMPAS.

[46] “Remembering Sue Mengers: Everybody Came to Sue’s,” Vanity Fair, October 2011.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Orlean, 186.

[49] Ibid.

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  • Article Title Sue Mengers
  • Coverage 1932-2011
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  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 21, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018