Sue Mengers: A seat at the A-List table

By Kathy Griffin On Monday, Sept. 13, 2007, I got a call from my agent that would start an unlikely friendship. He said: “Sue Mengers wants to invite you to dinner. She heard about your Emmy acceptance speech.” I knew exactly who she was. I remember seeing pictures of her with Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton. My mom, who followed these things, would tell me, “She's the toughest agent in Hollywood. And I hear that's a real boys club.” I chose a Chanel cocktail dress. I was told not to bring anyone. Part of Sue's game was that she'd never say who else was going to be at her parties, so when I got there — alone — I found Angie Dickinson; David Geffen and his boyfriend, Jeremy; Lorne Michaels; Tina Fey; Natasha Richardson; Jack Nicholson; Neil Diamond — and me? Sue had everyone sit around her coffee table. She brought up my reality series, “My Life on the D-List.” She told the group: “It is so funny. I sit in bed and watch her and she improvises everything.” And she turned to me and said: “Horrible title. You never should've called it D-list. Awful.” I thought, “What?” At the circular dining room table, Sue introduced me in a very grand way by saying, “Any woman who would go to the Emmys and tell Jesus to ‘suck it' deserves a seat at my table.” “A seat at my table.” That meant so much to me. Typically, I get in trouble for what I say. And I was in trouble at that time. I had religious groups mad at me, the television academy, various celebrities and so on. But if I hadn't told Jesus off, I wouldn't have met Sue, a ballsy chick who really put that kind of bravery into action. I watched her all night. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. All the men there — truly as gruff and tough as it gets — deferred to her. She would make sweeping, provocative statements like “Mia Farrow played Frank Sinatra like a fiddle” or “If I was younger and thinner, I'm quite sure Daniel Craig would give me a roll in the hay,” and they hung on her every word. Lucky for me, it wasn't my last time at her table. But one night I went to a Sue dinner, and the next night I was a guest on “Piers Morgan Tonight.” On the air, I blurted out where I'd been the night before and who was there. I described it as “a pinch-myself moment.” I heard from Sue. Quickly. She was upset. Upset that I'd even mentioned the dinner. There were unspoken rules: No asking for photos. No ego-stroking among guests. No acknowledging that you knew each other's work. It was kind of like a Fight Club; you never talked about it. It was a bizarre celebrity A-list bubble. But it was Sue's, and she thought I'd burst it. Sue said: “I think you should apologize to the people at that table.” I said: “Sue, I love that you think I have any one of their telephone numbers.” I leveled with her: “Look, you can't put a gag order on me. The reason you invited me was because I stood up to Jesus at the freaking Emmys.” But I definitely felt terrible. I didn't know where we stood. Then one night, two weeks later, she called me and invited me to the next dinner. I couldn't go; I was on the road. I regret it deeply. I was in a diner the Sunday I heard she died. I don't think she knew the effect she had on me. She was a formidable and vulnerable woman. She held court; she valued the art of conversation. And if you're wondering why all the A-Listers wanted to be in her presence years after she retired as an agent, it's because she didn't need anything from them. How's that for a life lesson? Kathy Griffin is a two-time Emmy winner and the author of “Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin.” Above, Mengers is seen in 1996. RELATED: Kathy Griffin shares another story about Sue Mengers
Marsha T. Gorman / Los Angeles Times
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