Sue Mengers, Barbra Streisand, and Ray Stark

October 17, 2011

Sue Mengers, one of the last legendary Hollywood agents, died last week.

During my Ray Stark years, I spent a lot of time with Sue and Ray. What a pair of characters they were individually, and most hilariously, together. Sue and Ray had already been through “the wars”  because Sue represented Barbra Streisand, whom Ray had made into a star through Funny Girl, The Way We Were,  and several other films of hers that he produced. At one time or another, Sue also represented Candice Bergen, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon, Cher, Joan Collins, Brian De Palma, Faye Dunaway, Bob Fosse, Gene Hackman, Sidney Lumet, Ali McGraw, Steve McQueen, Mike Nichols, Nick Nolte, Tatum O’Neal, Ryan O’Neal, Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Gore Vidal, Tuesday Weld, and many others.

Ray’s wife Fran was Fanny Brice’s daughter and that’s how Ray came up with the idea of making Funny Girl (first as a play in 1964 and then a film in 1968) about Fanny Brice herself.

As Ray often told me, the challenge to getting the project made properly was finding someone with the unique blend of charisma, humor, and talent of Fanny Brice who had been a huge, huge Broadway star for more than thirty years. Known for her wild and unpredictable wit, Fanny Brice was also a hugely popular singer who was known for songs like “My Man” and “Second Hand Rose” that became legendary standards.

Ray became aware of a young woman named Barbra Streisand who, at the tender age of nineteen, was making her Broadway debut in a musical named I Can Get It For You Wholesale. Ray went to see the play and was absolutely mesmerized by Ms. Streisand whom he saw as the quintessential Fanny Brice. On the spot, he decided that she would have to star in Funny Girl, even though it meant that he had to wait for Ms. Streisand to finish her run in the play.

I Can Get It For You Wholesale proved to be quite a bonanza in other ways for Ray as well. The play was written by Arthur Laurents who also many years later wrote The Way We Were which Ray produced and in which Ms. Streisand starred. In addition, the choreographer of the play was Herbert Ross, who later directed films such as The Goodbye Girl and California Suite, both of which Ray produced.

And that was the way it was in The Old Hollywood.

Those indeed were the days.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Asha Hawkesworth October 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I’m sorry for your loss, Stephen. It sounds like she had a fun life!


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