Book Review: new Look at Sue Mengers

Can I Go Now? The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent. Brian Kellow. New York: Viking, 2015.

imgres-1Brain Kellow has written the definitive biography of Sue Mengers, and it’s a fun book. Mengers was an influential Hollywood talent agent who represented some of the industry’s most glamorous stars at the height of their careers, including Barbara Streisand, Cybil Shepherd, Gene Hackman, Anthony Perkins, and Burt Reynolds. She is often credited with helping them secure some of their most iconic roles. Kellow suggests that Mengers redefined her profession by carving out a place for women in an industry dominated by men, but does not push any sort of central argument beyond his desire to record her biography. Kellow clearly adores Mengers and has dedicated himself to recovering as many details of her life and career as possible. He presents Mengers as a relentlessly energetic force of nature who stood out from other agents of the age. Through sheer force of will, tenacity, and a refusal to be overlooked, Mengers promoted some of Hollywood’s greatest stars and pushed to have her voice be the loudest in the room. Kellow provides excellent social and historical context when describing the world that Mengers entered–initially as a young secretary–and he makes frequent observations about how her often-outrageous behavior propelled her to the forefront of Hollywood representation.

Kellow divulges all the juicy gossip from the film industry from the 1960s through the 1980s. His writing is very accessible; his tone often breezy. He includes uproarious stories about Katharine Hepburn and Ali McGraw, extensive quotes from Michael Caine, and copious information about Barbra Streisand’s career, Streisand being one of Mengers’ greatest projects. Kellow never shies from exposing people at their worst- including Mengers, whose larger- than-life personality and predictably unpredictable behavior caused people either to love or hate her.

Mengers comes off as a prickly character at best, with a complicated family history and psychology. She was determined, ambitious, and willing to use any means necessary to promote her clients and, of course, herself. She was at the center of the Hollywood scene during these decades and seems to deserve the credit that Kellow heaps upon her for shaping these celebrities and the films on which they worked. By the end of the book, it is unclear if she did, in fact, open up new opportunities for future generations of women agents, but it is very clear that she opened up plenty of opportunities for herself and that she enjoyed her success to the fullest.

This is not an academic work and relies primarily on interviews, personal conversations and anecdotes. Kellow offers an affectionate retelling of Hollywood royalty and all their foibles. He is clearly interested in describing the evolving nature of professional agents, but is equally interested in reporting on the star’s more embarrassing moments. This would be a great book for film buffs who would enjoy the behind-the-scenes anecdotes, the description of the process of producing films and negotiating casting and the chance to see these celebrities from a new angle- namely from a superagent’s point of view. This book would also be useful for courses on writing, journalism, or New Hollywood filmmaking

Katherine Allocco

Western Connecticut State University

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