Friday, April 12, 2013


    So #SueMengers has finally achieved her great unspoken ambition: to be the biggest name in the room.  The room is the Booth Theatre on 45th St., habited to the gills by those eager to see Bette Midler back in the still adorable flesh, swathed in a sequined sky-blue caftan, with lank, pale blonde locks draping her animated face, curiously affectionate even as her attitude disses.  Sue was nothing if not attitude, and the Divine Miss M has captured it to an S-- that is, a little bit short of a T.  But only because she knows she is playing at hard-heart, and so does the audience.
    As my small circle of friends (I have not friended them on Facebook) knows, Sue was my closest friend when we were both starting out in New York.  Two plump, young not-exactly-ingenues, both uncertain of their future, but patently ambitious, we were a great support to each other-- I introduced her to my most butch buddy, ("Hamburger," he said to me the day after their... what can I call it? Assignation? "She made me into hamburger.")  But she was loving about my Don, encouraging me to marry him ("You can't fake a hard-on" she said, romantically,) and stood up for me at my Plaza wedding, saying "We must do this every Sunday." 
   When my play opened (very briefly) on Broadway, Sue was my agent, and as I was in the hospital at the time giving birth to my daughter, Sue got all the congratulatory calls.("I feel like the Mother of the Bride," she said.)  Then she moved to Hollywood as my little family was shortly to do, where I wrote THE PRETENDERS, with its central character, Louise Felder, unmistakably Sue. ("I heard that it's supposed to be about Sue Mengers,"  Barbra Streisand said to me at a small party in New York, and I don't think I said No.)  That did not have quite the resonance at the time of Maureen Stapleton's call to me, about George Abbott's saying "I understand this is about Billy Rose."
    Both assertions were true. Billy, the fabled producer and stock market scion-- he'd bought A T & T and sort of cornered it while it was still a monopoly, having been secretary to Bernard Baruch and not been shy about picking his financial brain,-- by the time Sue and I met him was sad and old, and we both seemed very alive.  So he hit on us both, one at a time, and, from my recollection, I fared better, as the extent of his crudity-- which it was-- was a bit less offensive in my case than it was in Sue's, whom he took to the 6th Avenue deli in his limo and said "Put your hand on my cock," which gave rise, so to speak, to her complaint about "What did he offer me that would justify putting my hand on an old man's shriveled thing?"  In my case, he invited me to his manse and as we stood in his entry stairwell looking up at what seemed to be (had to be a copy) the white marble Michelangelo of David, said "I know what you're thinking: You'd like to ball him, right?" That had, understandably, rendered me speechless, as did his looking into my closet when he took me home in his limo, and seeing the peach chiffon, maribou trimmed robe which my mother had picked up in one of her wholesale forays, said "Who you saving that for, Robert Goulette?"  I mean, he really pronounced it like that, with the final ette.  
   All of this gave rise to the plot of THE PRETENDERS, in which I wrote about Sue with, I think, great affection as well as insight, because I did love her, as Don did, too.  But I think her distancing me as she was to do later when we both lived in LA was less out of chagrin that I had written about her (insightfully, I must say) than that I became a successful writer, which she hadn't thought would happen, or maybe disliked because she hadn't been in charge ofy it.  I would see her at parties where she hadn't thought I would be invited, when I still grieved that she ran through them shouting "BEAU... Sue wants to fuck!"  
    Then, when Don died, I got a call from her.  She had just read my novel SILK LADY, in which Louise was again a central character, and was stunned. "But how did you know all that about me?' she said. "It was like you were inside me."  I explained that that was because I really loved her, and even though we hadn't seen each other for a while, had imagined her exploits, and how she felt.
"The only reason I could stop reading was my eyes grew too heavy from looking at the page," she said, ending with a salute to Don, her final sentence being "And I remember how much he loved you. "  Then she slammed down the phone, leaving me doubly bereft. That was her way, having always to control the conversation, as well as her function in your life. 
    Liz Smith, the columnist, called me right after that, and I was crying I think, because Don's young death was still fresh, and I was raw, and I hadn't been given the chance to respond.  I told Liz how moved I was because Sue had called.  Soon after that was the memorial for Gladys Begelman, David's appropriated (from his best friend)'s wife, and Sue was there.  "I was so moved by your call," I told Sue, and she said "And I was so moved by Liz Smith's column," she said, the item about her call having appeared in it, and piled her plate with a few more hors d'oeuvres from the mourner's feast before she turned away.
     She never spoke to me again, but did try to run me over outside Phil Scully's restaurant.  I remember her plump, pretty face, big sunglasses fixed on me as she looked through the windshield of her Mercedes.  I put out my hand to touch the hood ornament and waved at her, actually glad to see her, imagining I could talk to her, and make it all right.  But she stepped on the gas.