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What Agent Can Lose Barbra and Burt and Stay on Top? Only a Girl Named Sue (Mengers)

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They hype about 20th Century-Fox production chief Sherry Lansing notwithstanding, the most powerful female dealmaker in Hollywood is almost certainly superagent Sue Mengers, 44. Her own fiefdom within the International Creative Management agency includes clients whose returns could overburden an IRS regional office—Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine and suchlike. Yet in the past couple of years, four of her real biggies—Barbra Streisand, Burt Reynolds, Diana Ross and Ali MacGraw—have departed, stirring rumors that Mengers herself was about to make a major move. Would she take over Columbia Pictures or perhaps join old buddy David Begelman running MGM? The speculation was that Sue hadn’t lost her clients but was freeing them to avoid conflict of interest when she became a studio chief.

With such portents pending, it was no surprise that the cream of the A-list turned out when Sue threw a New York screening for All Night Long, directed by her husband, Belgian-born Jean-Claude Tramont, 50. Critics (except for Pauline Kael, who gave it a rave) were mostly baffled by the Streisand-Hackman movie, in which Mengers had apparently cajoled pal Streisand both to replace the fired Lisa (Yanks) Eichhorn and to take second billing to Hackman.

Streisand was cool at the party, and the rumor du jour was that she and Mengers had split because Mengers wanted 10 percent of her $4 million All Night Long fee, even though Barbra had taken the part as a personal favor. Likewise, it was said Diana Ross had left because Sue had trouble finding her roles, and Ali MacGraw, 42, reportedly defected in a huff because Mengers made her feel in need of a facelift (interestingly, Ali landed a plum part in NBC’s upcoming The Winds of War as a young woman).

Mengers has maintained that all the gossip is the work of enemies out to snag her clients. But is she about to become a major studio honcho? Columbia and MGM deny it. “Me?” asks Mengers. “I’m keeping a low profile.” Sort of.