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'Can I Go Now?' by Brian Kellow: EW review

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We gave it a B+

At the height of her powers in the mid-’70s, Hollywood agent Sue Mengers’ starry client list included Barbra Streisand, Michael Caine, Ryan O’Neal, Ali Mac-Graw, and wunderkind director Peter Bogdanovich. In fact, she was only interested in repping “twinklies,” as she referred to her A-list charges. Fellow agent Harry Ufland remembers in this biography of Mengers that she expressed amazement about his taking a client straight out of film school. “Why do you spend all this time on these guys?” she asked. (The name of the director: Martin Scorsese.) And woe betide anyone who brought a nonentity to one of her legendary dinner parties. “If my mother had been outside in the rain, she wouldn’t have been able to get in,” Mengers said of her soirees.

The foulmouthed agent, who died of pneumonia in 2011, might well have sent a salty word or two in the direction of Brian Kellow (author of 2011’s Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark) for his assiduous detailing of her unglamorous upstate New York upbringing. But she would doubtless have lit a celebratory joint—or 10—at the high-caliber nature of those offering reminiscences about the Hollywood power broker. Caine, for example, recalls the almost disastrous occasion when he mistook a bowl of cocaine for a bowl of sugar while preparing his coffee at Mengers’ house. Streisand, meanwhile, says it wasn’t unusual for the agent to coo over a client during a phone call and then call her the C-word once it was over, before reassuring the Funny Girl icon that, no, she would never talk about her that way.

Kellow doesn’t really make his case that Mengers was an important architect of Hollywood’s creative renaissance in the ’70s. Rather, she was instrumental in capsizing the careers of some who did contribute to that era, as when she persuaded Bogdanovich to cast as the male lead in his all-singing, all-dancing spectacle At Long Last Love another of her clients, Burt Reynolds, who could neither sing nor dance. Regardless, this is an absorbing read. At one point Richard Benjamin, the star of Westworld and a Mengers client, describes her as “a force of nature.” Can I Go Now? diligently documents the course of the hurricane. B+

MEMORABLE LINE “When John Travolta, then having a big success…on Welcome Back, Kotter, was called to her attention, she dismissed him as ‘that f—ing sweathog.’ ”