Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers,
Hollywood's First Superagent by Brian Kellow
Viking, 2015; 336 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
During her tenure as a Hollywood agent, Sue Mengers helped guide the careers of major talents like Barbra Streisand, Michael Caine, Ali McGraw, Ryan O’Neal, and dozens of other celebrities. Armed with an acerbic wit and no qualms about saying what she thought, Mengers launched movie stars, netted huge paydays for her clients, and became publically known for her behind-the-scenes work. Thanks to author Brian Kellow, Menger finally receives the biography she’s long deserved with Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent.
In Can I Go Now? and his previous biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark¸ Kellow has explored a rich vein in Hollywood history worth visiting: women on the fringe of the film industry. Dedicated readers of movie history know the tales of leading ladies who defined their eras, but what about those few women with the tenacity to break into the male-dominated business or the field of criticism? Kellow enlightened readers with the ways Pauline Kael altered film criticism during her career, trailblazing the way movie reviews are approached in America, and opening doors for other female reviewers. Our author lends a similar tip of the hat to Sue Mengers, tracing her rise from secretary to theatre agent to Hollywood superagent. Though it’s hard to discern if Mengers’s success helped to open the doors to other female agents, Kellow fleshes out the comradery felt among other female figures in Hollywood who wanted to be heard. We learn about stars from Mengers’ inner circle like Streisand as she fought to direct her passion project Yentyl, or Sherry Lansing who began her career as an actress before working her way up to becoming the first woman to head a Hollywood studio.
As written by Kellow, Mengers can at times be an elusive personality. She is defined so much by her work and how she advised her clients. Kellow does find ways to offer some interesting insight, like chronicling her marriage to filmmaker Jean-Claude Tramont and how she influenced others to ensure his films were made. Mengers was also known for her parties where joints were passed, feuds reconciled, and Jack Nicholson offered Princess Margaret cocaine on a dare. Kellow highlights Menger’s rascally spirit in a way that it’s easy to understand the allure she had over everyone she met.