One-time powerhouse agent Sue Mengers died at her home in Beverly Hills on Oct. 15. Mengers, whose reported age varies between 78 and 81, died of pneumonia following a series of strokes.
Known for her abrasive manner, the German-born Mengers represented numerous top film performers and filmmakers in the 1970s and 1980s. According to various sources, among those were Barbra Streisand, Ann-Margret, Cher, Ryan O’Neal, Faye Dunaway, Candice Bergen, Joan Collins, Steve McQueen, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Tuesday Weld, Tom Ewell, Paula Prentiss, Richard Benjamin, Tatum O’Neal, Ali MacGraw, Sidney Lumet, Gene Hackman, Peter Bogdanovich, and Brian De Palma.
“I never invited anyone who wasn’t successful,” Mengers, referring to her house parties, told The New Yorker in 1994. “I was ruthless about it. It was all stars. I would look around my living room at all of them and even I’d be impressed with myself.” Her own success, however, faded in the mid-80s when she briefly retired from the business. Later in the decade, Mengers was unable to lure much-needed top talent to the William Morris Agency. She left the agency in 1991.
“Her enemies—there is an ample supply—dismiss her as vulgar, venal, vindictive and untrustworthy, a puffball of bluff,” a 1973 Time article titled “Sweet and Sour Sue” reads. “Even some friends regard her with the affectionate respect that they might accord a pet barracuda.”
That same year, Mengers served as the basis for the character played by Dyan Cannon (one of Mengers’ clients) in Herbert Ross’ murder drama The Last of Sheila. (Ross, who called Cannon’s character “human, gamy, but not common,” was another client. Fellow Mengers client Anthony Perkins co-wrote the screenplay with Stephen Sondheim.)
In 1981, Mengers would serve as the basis for a considerably less human and less gamy character: Shelley Winters’ ugly, rude, obnoxious, vulgar, lesbian agent Eva Brown (surely no coincidence that sounds like Eva Braun) in Blake Edwards’ anti-Hollywood satire S.O.B. (Another reason for the Eva Brown moniker may have been the fact that Mengers used to compare herself to All About Eve‘s Eve Harrington, the ruthless climber played by Anne Baxter in the 1950 Oscar winner.)
Mengers was married to Belgian writer-director Jean-Claude Tramont from 1973 until his death in 1996. Tramont’s three film credits as a director were Le point de mire / Focal Point (1977), starring Annie Girardot and Jacques Dutronc; the flop All Night Long (1981), with Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand in what amounted to a supporting role (the first of her career); and the cable TV drama As Summers Die (1986), featuring Scott Glenn, Jamie Lee Curtis, and a scene-stealing Bette Davis. Tramont also wrote the screenplay for the 1973 Elizabeth Taylor flop Ash Wednesday.
Now, Sue Mengers may have been the most powerful female Hollywood talent agent of the ’70s and ’80s, but she was hardly a pioneer in that field. Long before her entering the scene in the ’60s – representing Anthony Perkins and Julie Harris – there was Sue Carol, a former silent film actress who founded her own talent agency in the late ’30s. Carol, in fact, was in large part responsible for turning husband Alan Ladd into one of Paramount’s top stars of the ’40s.
Additionally, top publicist Helen Ferguson (another former silent film actress) at times doubled as a talent agent. In either function, among her clients were Loretta Young, Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Fay Wray.