Tuesday, August 25, 2015


There was a review in yesterday’s, or maybe it was Saturday’s NYTimes of a Sue Mengers biography,  by someone looking to remember or profit from her.  Sue was my best friend, a curious word to apply to her as it turned out, when we were both starting out as young women—baby girls we might have considered ourselves at the time, when everything was cute, and dialogue was witty, and both of us were dating… no, really… Billy Rose.
      He was just as short as fabled, and probably even richer than the stories went, and had a limo that he picked you up in that then parked outside the 6th Avenue Delicatessen, where he actually took you to dinner.  He was cruder—is that a word?—than the legends had it, but balanced off the low level of his diction with the mythic  height of his friends, so old, of course, that you needed to look them up on what would have been the era’s Internet, if something like that existed, which it probably didn’t.  You would have had to call Gore Vidal who likely knew all that shit. 
     Billy took me to a few adventures in his limo—the black tie premiere of Lord Jim—a visit to his Fifth Avenue mansion, where there was in the front hall a statue that I confuse with Moses or something by Rodin, or maybe it really was The Thinker, borrowed or maybe stolen for a brief period of time from the museum in Paris.  Standing in front of that statue on Billy’s Fifth Avenue marble staircase, I was borderline ga-ga, there on the landing with tiny, old Billy behind me, and he actually said: “I know what you’re thinking: you’d like to ball him, right?”
      That was a line I used in The Pretenders, my bestseller—the only one I had since I never had that clever a publisher or such good timing again—the name of which inspired the singing group, a happy fact I didn’t learn until a number of years later when their lead singer told me they named themselves after my novel.  Meanwhile, Sue, truly my best friend, something she could still afford to be at the time, being my agent and Tom Korman’s partner, had stolen Phyllis Rabb’s client list from William Morris, and begun reaching out to all of them—clawing more likely.  There was no one cleverer, or, little round person that she was, cuter, in her lovely-skinned, chubby way.  When my novel came out and became a bestseller we had one moment where she might have expressed her feeling of betrayal—I’m not sure.  But I am sure she never expected me to be a success, so the fact that the novel lifted me to some kind of temporary prominence, though it never matched hers, irritated her.
     She didn’t speak to me for a big number of her superstar years, until a later novel, SILK LADY, revived and updated her character, though I’d had no contact with her for years.  It was, she phoned me to say, eerily on target about how she spoke and felt about everything. For a moment we were as close during that conversation as we’d been in our sort-of-girlhoods.
       It was shortly after Don died, -- he had really loved her in our early days, when we all hung out together.  She ended the conversation with “Most of all, I remember how much he loved you,” and hung up.  I tried to get her back, as I was to do over and over again in the coming years, but she never re-opened the door.  Control was her big issue.
      I saw her once after that, at Gladyce Begelman’s memorial, when she expressed her anger at my having told Liz Smith, lovingly as I remember, of that last phone conversation.  Then I saw her the last time, outside Phil Scully’s restaurant, when she tried to run me down in her Mercedes.  So you could say the friendship ended badly.  But I think, all in all, I probably held her in higher regard than she held herself.
     That she is still being talked of, or, at least, written about, albeit not very well, according to the review, is some indication of the energy she had, the force she was.  The play about her that I saw was not as sharp as she was.  There’s a production of it now off Broadway.  So I guess, in her own way, for a while at least, she has become immortal.
         What’s interesting to me, as me, for me, is that I still miss her. But then I never knew the tough nut she became.  I knew only the sharp young woman she was.