PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers—I Laughed, You Bette

By Harry Haun
25 Apr 2013

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Bette Midler
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Like many of the above, Kathy Griffith claimed a Mengers allegiance: "I went to many of the infamous dinners. Jon Hamm was at one. I see Jon here tonight. You never knew who you were going to see, and Sue never told you. That was the deal. She was one of a kind. I loved her. Bette Midler is one of a kind, too."

And, of course, Mario Cantone was beside himself with anticipation. "I can't wait to see this," he trilled. "Are you kidding me? This is a gay man's wet dream!"

The overriding rule of the game is never actually spoken in the play: Nothing Lasts, and that, alas, goes for as powerful a personage as Mengers, who maintained and manufactured stars with rat-a-tat-tat regularity from the '60s to the '80s. Pointedly, the play takes place in 1981, and the stars have left her roster for other galaxies. The marijuana has taken its toll, and Mengers rises to make a slow, stoned exit, having to prepare herself for the evening's party. "My squadron of stylists, primpers and morticians will arrive shortly. Don't bump into them on your way out."

We have been dismissed, yet we're not moving. She squints into the haze in front of her. "Of course, I would ask you to stay, but . . . well . . . look at you."

The post-show press conference was set up in the theatre's lower lobby—eight camera crews and three press outlets, poised for the usual shift-and-repeat ritual where stars answer the same questions with the same words. Let me tell you what a doll this Midler dame is. She improvised fresh, funny responses for all 11 of us!

Her entrance was a stunner. All the imagined pounds that roomily rummage around under Mengers' free-flowing caftan had magically evaporated, revealing a trim, shapely actress in a splendidly tailored frock. Ah, the magic of theatre once again!

For me, this delectably dishy diatribe was tantamount to a good wallow in angel-food cake, and Midler understood that feeling. "It's show business," she said definitively. "You have to love the business. You do. That's, actually, the truth. The one thing I have in common with Sue was: I love the business. I love the business of the business. I mean, I love everything about it—the lore, the mythology, the people who are involved. I love the idea that people came up from their bootstraps. The glove salesman who had nothing made this empire. I love it. I love she's part of it.