Sue Mengers: Hollywood agent with a glittering roster of stars

Sue Mengers represented many of Hollywood's major players, introduced new stars and broke through male-dominated Hollywood, allowing other women to follow both in front of and behind the camera.

She drove incredible deals, forged deep friendships and left a catalogue of outrageous stories.

She developed an outrageous character and used any trick in the book to make the deal. She could be Machiavellian in playing people off against each other and knew exactly when a bluff would get what she wanted. She had enormous chutzpah, pulling up at a stop light next to Burt Lancaster and persuading him to sign to her. When Barbra Streisand appeared on Charles Manson's hitlist, Mengers reassured her: "Honey, they aren't killing stars, just bit players."

In 1938 Mengers' family fled Hamburg for New York, where her father became a travelling salesman. He committed suicide a few years later. Mengers learned English in Bronx cinemas and hoped to become an actress. But after a spell as a talent agency secretary she joined former colleague Tom Korman as an agent, then to the small agency CMA which, through a series of mergers, became part of the behemoth ICM.

Mengers was in her element in 1970s Hollywood. She put together packages using stars to leverage roles for upcoming clients. Her massive client list included Candice Bergen, Cher, Joan Collins, Faye Dunaway, Tatum O'Neal, Cybill Shepherd, Tuesday Weld, Michael Caine, Elliott Gould, Steve McQueen, Nick Nolte, Anthony Perkins, Robert Redford and Gore Vidal as well as directors including Brian De Palma, Bob Fosse, Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols and Arthur Penn. She was a canny talent-spotter, picking up Ali McGraw at the start of her career and Peter Bogdanovich while The Last Picture Show was still in rough cut. In 1972 Mengers hooked him up with her clients Streisand and Ryan O'Neal to make the hit screwball comedy What's Up Doc? She inspired enormous affection and in 1973 was gently parodied by her client Dyan Cannon in the ship-bound murder-mystery The Last of Sheila.

That year Streisand was Mengers' maid of honour for her wedding to the Belgian director Jean-Claude Tramont, but this indirectly caused one of her rare missteps. Tramont's All Night Long (1981) was a low-budget comedy with Mengers' client Gene Hackman and Lisa Eichorn. Mengers wanted Streisand but she was prepping Yentl and refused. Yet Eichorn was sacked and Streisand was onboard with a $4m fee. It nearly doubled the budget and the film lost money. Streisand's reviews ranged from good to terrible. Shortly after, Mengers was sacked. Streisand was more than a client: their shared poor Jewish upbringing made her a soulmate and Mengers was crushed, arguing that she had simply offered the deal: Streisand and the film company had agreed it.

Mengers retired in 1986 but two years later joined the William Morris Agency. But financing had become hugely complex, with residuals and merchandising offsetting upfront payments: Mengers' old-style deals no longer worked, while her toughness became abrasive and insulting. WMA quietly let her go. After a period of reclusiveness, she returned to hosting the most important parties in town, blowsily holding court with her ever-present joint, laughing throatily and dropping her acidic bon mots.

Sue Mengers, Hollywood agent: born Hamburg 2 September c. 1932; married 1973 Jean-Claude Tramont (died 1996); died Beverley Hills 15 October 2011.

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
News
Ethical matters: pupils during a philosophy lesson
educationTaunton School's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Sport
video
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal