Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries
“With the male models, all the really straight-looking models are gay, and all the really gay-looking models are straight.”
Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries
Image Credit: A History of Men's Fashion
“I live in Brooklyn, but not Williamsburg. I auditioned to live in Williamsburg, but I didn’t get a callback.”
In Wednesday's New York Times, Ian Schrager noted that it was his Studio 54 partner Steve Rubell who coined the phrase “bridge and tunnel.” Rubell used it to describe the wannabes on the wrong side of the Studio 54 velvet rope: those whose heavy gold chains jangled against their overly exposed hairy chests and whose suits were one hundred percent polyester. Said Rubell, “We can’t let the bridge-and-tunnel people come in. That’ll kill the night.”
Of course, it is rather bridge and tunnel to call out others for being “bridge and tunnel.” The more posh response would be to pretend that no such distinction exists, or in the alternative, to invent a less snobbish euphemism for it.
And, now that Brooklyn is red-hot, what does it mean to be bridge and tunnel, anyway? Like the word “Hollywood,” it is has shed its geographic limitations and become a state of mind. According to the Urban Dictionary, its use and application now extend far beyond the Hudson and East Rivers.
Schrager told the Times, “The ultimate irony is that [Steve Rubell and I] were bridge-and-tunnel people.” Yet this pejorative no longer denotes place of birth. Consider Ian Schrager himself. He has become its antithesis. A trait of the bridge-and-tunnel personality is to confuse lavish expenditures of cash with good taste. That does not describe Schrager, America's leading boutique hotelier, whose post-Studio 54 ventures are as stylish as they are reasonably priced (dare we use the word chic?).
Image Credit: Andy Warhol's Exposures
“Halston invited me to Montauk, so I’m going at 6:30 on Friday with him on his rented plane. It’s so nice to be invited to your own house by the person who’s renting it—you feel at home and you’re still making money.”
--Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, July 9, 1981
Image Credit: The Fashion Makers
“I voted once. In the fifties, I don’t remember which election. I pulled the wrong lever because I was confused. I couldn’t figure out how to work the thing. There was not a practice model outside, it was a church on 35th Street between Park and Lex. This was when I was living at 242 Lexington. And then I got called for jury duty and I wrote back: ‘Moved.' I’ve never voted again.”
--Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries
Though he might not have voted, Warhol had a great deal to say about politics in his Diaries. He also wrote about his dealings with a certain social climbing New Yorker who was just then making a splash in real estate. How fascinated Warhol would have been by this person's quixotic run for the presidency in 2016.
Image Credit: Horst Interiors
“Bob had Brigid helping him all day, writing the text for the photo book, and I mean, they’re crazy—they called me up and read me some of the stuff and they have me talking about Lee Radziwill and Jackie O. in the book as if they’re my best friends. I want to throw up.”
--Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries
In this January 1979 entry, Andy Warhol references his coffee table book Andy Warhol's Exposures then being ghostwritten by Bob Colacello, with the assistance of Brigid Berlin. In spite of Warhol's hesitations, it was a success and is now a perfect snapshot of Studio 54-era New York. Nick Harvill Libraries currently has a copy for sale that is warmly inscribed by Warhol to one of his collectors, the San Francisco socialite Dodie Rosekrans.
Image Credit: Andy Warhol's Exposures
“I thought people in New York were detached but they really care. In Paris it’s great. They are detached. They laugh at you. I thought that maybe they didn’t know anything but now I think they know everything.”
--Andy Warhol, The Sixties: A Decade in Vogue
Image Credit: Warhol by Makos
"Rich people only like being around rich people. Nobody likes being around poor people, especially poor people."
--Steve Wynn, Investor’s Day Presentation, 2016
“In New York it is chic for people who have money to live in close proximity to people who are poor.”
--Stephen Birmingham, Life at the Dakota, 1979
Much has changed since Stephen Birmingham proposed that it was fashionable for the poor and rich to live side by side. Plummeting crime rates, thriving hipsterism, and neighborhood gentrification have transformed great American cities like New York and San Francisco. As desirability surged, so did the cost of living. The only muggings city dwellers fear today are those by their landlords. Consequently, the equation is now far different than it was in 1979. As such, does it remain chic for the rich and poor to live in close proximity?
On the surface, at least, it appears as though Steve Wynn does not think so. When he told investors that the rich are only attracted to other rich people, he surely failed to anticipate that it would become national news. Was his opinion just a gaffe, or was it a Marie Antoinette moment that speaks to the zeitgeist of our era? Also, does it even signify how Wynn himself actually behaves or believes?
Escalating property values have made Birmingham’s assertion more difficult to achieve, but its spirit remains true. It continues to be chic for the poor and rich to live in close proximity. Part of the magic of New York City (or any interesting metropolis) is the mix—the eclectic assortment of people willing to brave the challenges of urban living. That mix includes both the “haves” and “have nots.” Of course, some of the creative types that fall into the “have not” category will in time prove to be “have not yets.” That, however, is to be expected. One of the cardinal rules of a mix is that it must be stirred.
Consider New York City’s Studio 54. No club, no matter how celebrity-filled or frequently mentioned in Page Six, has come close to 54’s legendary status. The success of that 1970s-era disco was due not to its homogeneity but to its opposite: the combustible assortment of people it attracted. The club had its fair share of the rich and famous, but as Bob Colacello astutely observed, “It is quite wrong to think of Studio 54 as a place where people went to look at celebrities, it was in a way where celebrities went to look at people.”
Another exciting place and time was the Swinging London scene of the 1960s and early 1970s. In that era, it was not only fashionable to mix with the poor; it was necessary to do so with a pronounced Cockney accent. The Etonians were not loaded onto tumbrils, but they tactfully went undercover until the end of the decade when Margaret Thatcher made them fashionable again.
One need not dive that far into the past for examples, however. Bruce Weber and Nan Bush’s annual periodical All-American celebrates those who exemplify the best in style and individuality, with scant attention to income level. Greybull Press, from the early 2000s, also mixed those from a variety of backgrounds and social classes in such books as Height of Fashion, Joseph Szabo: Teenage, and The Book on Vegas (which Steve Wynn has on his shelf, perhaps).
Maybe Steve Wynn’s comments should be confined to the gambling industry? Even the most egalitarian must admit there are few experiences more depressing than a visit to a low-end casino. The comedian Dan St. Germain expressed it brilliantly when he quipped, “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Vegas. What happens in Atlantic City follows you home and accuses you of [a felony].” The allure of gambling is the glamour: it should be Rain Man, not Leaving Las Vegas. As such, maybe Steve Wynn’s comments about the rich and poor, like the sins committed there, should stay in Vegas?
Moreover, before condemning Steve Wynn as a modern-day Marie Antoinette, consider the possibility that like the French queen, his opinions are more nuanced than the mob supposes. In Los Angeles, I once asked my driver what his plans were for the long weekend. He replied that he was chauffeuring Steve Wynn to Las Vegas, as he did most weekends. Wynn was living in Beverly Hills, and because he disliked flying, traveled to Las Vegas by car. He praised Wynn as personable and courteous. Because Wynn would not require transport again until the return drive to Los Angeles, he would give the driver handfuls of free coupons to restaurants and attractions and tell him to go enjoy himself. Such magnanimity suggests Steve Wynn is not quite the out-of-touch snob that his comment to his investors made him appear to be.
The best book on the Studio 54-era is its unofficial high school yearbook, Andy Warhol’s Exposures. Two of the great books on Swinging London are The Birds of Britain and Goodbye Baby & Amen, A Saraband for the Sixties.
"To call Sue Mengers a “character” is an understatement, unless the word is written in all caps, followed by an exclamation point and modified by an expletive."
--Jen Chaney, The Washington Post
The 1970s-era agent Sue Mengers referred to her A-list clients and the international celebrities in her glittering circle as "twinklies." For a time, there was only thing more star-studded than her client roster: one of her parties. The pinnacle of which was a celebrity-filled dinner she gave in honor of Princess Margaret; it attracted every twinkly in Hollywood. At one of her soirees, Johnny Carson complained, "God, there are too many stars here, not enough sycophants!"
Sue's myopic interest in only the most celebrated cursed her with one of the stereotypical qualities for which Southern California is continually maligned. Yet her devilish sense of humor and refreshing candor shined so brightly that her interest only in celebrities fit Sue like a glove. It was an essential part of her charm. A more open-minded Sue Mengers simply would have not been Sue Mengers.
Brian Kellow attempts to make sense of Sue and her extraordinary personality in his 2015 biography, Can I Go Now? The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent. He had little paper trail from Mengers with which to achieve his task. Fortunately, many of those who knew and worked with Sue Mengers agreed to go on record (the author conducted over two hundred interviews--impressive!). They serve this book well and will undoubtedly be of great benefit to future works about her or that era.
The reviews for Can I Go Now? were moderately positive, but some critics suggested that Kellow failed to capture just how unique a character Sue Mengers was. Might we suggest the audio version of the book featuring Suzanne Toren's delightful narration? When the book quotes Mengers, which is frequently, Toren gets into character, capturing Menger's distinctive manner of speaking, including the baby-doll affectation that Sue so cleverly used to lighten the mood or lessen the sting of one of her barbs.
Much like that of her friend Robert Evans, Sue's career did not survive the more conformist 1980s. Top stars such as Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal were Sue's raison d'etre, and when they signed elsewhere, she lost a bit of her spark. But who says Hollywood only loves you when you are on top? Sue continued to be relevant until her death three decades later. Though above-the-title actors no longer wished to be represented by her, they happily accepted her dinner party invitations. Moreover, even in retirement, Sue was interested only in top talent. As such, her dinners were as exclusive as they were intimate. It was if Vanity Fair hosted an Oscar party for just eight or twelve people.
One of the films Mengers arranged for her favorite client Barbra Streisand was the 1976 version of A Star Is Born. There is a reason this film is continually rebooted. It is based upon a truism. The rise of one star is generally accompanied by the fall of another. Such was the case with Sue Mengers. The 1980s proved to be as cruel to her as they were kind to her International Creative Management colleague Ed Limato.
Yet, in the early years of that decade, Sue was still the powerhouse agent and Ed Limato the tyro. One day she strolled into the office at full throttle, commanding her underlings, “Get me Barbra [Streisand]! Then get me Ryan [O'Neal]!” Limato's assistant proved Mengers was not the only one at the agency with a sense of humor. He countered, just as loudly, “Ed! Exciting news! Patrice Munsel on line three! She’s calling from that dinner theater in Maine. Call Me Madam has been extended!” According to Brian Kellow, "Sue thought this was hilarious. As she passed by Limato, she purred, 'Don’t keep Patrice waiting, Ed.'”
CHARLES MANSON MURDERS
Sue Mengers was known for her acerbic wit. Her most famous quip was made to Barbra Streisand. Streisand telephoned Sue in a panic after learning of the brutal murder of Sharon Tate and four others at 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Crest. Mengers caustically reassured her, “Don’t worry, honey, they’re not killing stars, only featured players."
There is much more to that story, however. But for a roll of the dice, Sue's client Candice Bergen could easily have been the victim (though at this point in her career, she too was no more than a featured player). Bergen had previously lived at 10050 Cielo Drive with her then-boyfriend Terry Melcher (Doris Day's son). In fact, it was through Melcher that Manson first came to know the house, when Beach Boy Dennis Wilson introduced them. Manson hoped would Melcher land him a music contract, but their relationship soured. Manson knew Melcher no longer lived there, but he sent his murderous gang to the home anyway to send Melcher a terrifying message.
Vanity Fair gave Sue Mengers the full-blown celebrity profile she deserved (and surely relished) in the April 2000 issue. It is available in its entirety at the Vanity Fair website.
If any public figure was more influenced by the cult of celebrity than Sue Mengers, it was Andy Warhol. It is no surprise that their worlds frequently collided, and Sue makes appearances in The Andy Warhol Diaries. In April 1977, he recounted a dinner party for Jean Stein held at Stein's sister's apartment in the Dakota. It was just Sue's kind of party, with everyone from Jacqueline Onassis to Norman Mailer in attendance. At the event, Warhol one-upped Mengers in a most amusing and Warholian way (not mentioned in Kellow's Sue Mengers biography). From Warhol's Diaries:
I had the first really nice talk with Jackie O. but I don’t remember too much about what it was about. The Magic of People in the Movies, or something. Sue Mengers was running around this party bragging the same thing she always brags—that she could offer [then] President Carter a three-picture deal at $3 million a picture and that he’d take it, because everybody wants to be in the movies. So I pointed at Jackie [Onassis] and told Sue to go prove it, but she was afraid, she wouldn’t go over to her and make the offer.
Mengers also appeared in Andy Warhol's Exposures:
Sue's the funniest person in the world. When I first met her a couple of years ago, she wanted to get to know high society and I wanted to get to know Hollywood stars, so we made a deal. I introduced Sue to C.Z. Guest and Maxime de la Falaise. She introduced me to Paul Newman, but I wanted Clint Eastwood. She really wanted Babe Paley.
SUNSET BOULEVARD, SUE MENGERS-STYLE
When Sue Mengers relocated from New York to Los Angeles, she initially rented a guest cottage at Dawnridge, Tony Duquette's Beverly Hills estate. In her heyday, she owned a grand home on Bel Air Road where she entertained lavishly. Her later years were spent at more modest estate one block north of Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills (check out the listing photos at LA Curbed).
EATEN LAST: BARBRA STREISAND AND BETTE MIDLER
I'll Eat You Last, John Logan's one-woman show about the life of Sue Mengers, opened on Broadway in 2013 starring Bette Midler. The Divine Miss M followed the show to the West Coast for a limited run at the Geffen Playhouse. Its $400 ticket price broke Geffen box office records. Sue Mengers's favorite client Barbra Streisand attended and enjoyed Midler's interpretation of her friend. "It was a wonderful performance. Bette made me laugh in the same way that Sue did and she touched my heart as Sue did. It isn't the whole story of course. Some of the facts are not true, but it was a very enjoyable evening." No one understood the contradictions of Sue Mengers better than Sue's all-time favorite client. As such, kudos from notorious perfectionist Barbra Streisand is high praise indeed.
DAVID GEFFEN, HUMANITARIAN
It is fitting that the one-woman show on Mengers ran at the Geffen Playhouse. David Geffen was a longtime friend of Sue Mengers, and he remained steadfast, even though she could be abusive towards him. He went above and beyond. Not only did he give her his heart, he granted her use of his private jet, and this was long after her heyday when she was able to grant favors in return.
IMAGE CREDITS: The photograph of Mengers with Ali MacGraw and Candice Bergen is from the Estate of Sue Mengers. The photograph of Mengers and Ryan O'Neal is from the collection of Ryan O'Neal. Sue Mengers selected the photograph of herself attending the Cannes Film Festival for Greybull Press's divine book Height of Fashion, edited by Lisa Eisner and Román Alonso.
"Andy [Warhol] is a very shy person with an extraordinary talent to get other people to do things for him. In that factory he runs down there, he has thirty-five or forty people, more or less unpaid, who are doing all these incredible things for Andy and one can’t exactly figure out what the grip is. It’s sort of like a strange orphanage for would-be talented people."
--Truman Capote, Conversations with Capote
Image Credit: Mrs. Tependris: The Contemporary Years
"All you have to do is think beautiful when you’re being photographed—that’s the secret—and then you are beautiful."
Truman Capote, Truman Capote in which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career
Photo Credit: Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s.