Hollywood loses a beloved agent and friend

By Sara Vilkomerson
Updated October 21, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

”She was tough and funny, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” Lorne Michaels says of überagent Sue Mengers, who passed away from pneumonia in her Beverly Hills home on Oct. 15 at the age of 79. The German-born Mengers, an undisputed trailblazer for women in Hollywood, began as a receptionist in 1955 at the MCA talent agency and rose to become one of the most powerful agents in the industry, representing Barbra Streisand, Michael Caine, Ali MacGraw, Faye Dunaway, Candice Bergen, Steve McQueen, Cybill Shepherd, and Sidney Lumet over the course of her career and her heyday at ICM. But she was just as well-known for her brash personality, quick, caustic wit, and A-listers-only parties. (”My own mother wouldn’t have got in if she was standing outside in the rain,” she once quipped in an interview.) Not to mention her influence among Hollywood’s elite: ”I think what everyone loved about her is that she could tell the truth in a town where almost everybody is defending or selling their particular position,” says Michaels, a close friend since the mid-’70s. ”She was surrounded by very powerful people and she didn’t have to be anything other than herself. She loved being around smart, talented people,” he says. ”It was a sort of oxygen to her.”