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REMEMBER WHEN: On Wednesday night at the Russian Tea Room in Manhattan, a pall of nostalgia hung in the air, more so than usual. The after party for the new one-woman show “I’ll Eat You Last” was taking place. The play is a portrait of the late superagent Sue Mengers, played by Bette Midler, and friends, colleagues and even those who met Mengers long after her heyday came by to pay their respects, get a taste of old Hollywood pizzazz and maybe reminisce about when they were “hot.”
David Geffen shared a booth with Fran Lebowitz. Glenn Close, squeezed between David Furnish and a smartly attired, Mohawked young man, name unknown, was beside Christine Baranski and an entranced Gay Talese. Midler, mobbed when she arrived, had a post-performance meal behind an enormous bodyguard who rivaled in size her tablemate, Academy Awards joke writer Bruce Vilanch.
The red carpet for the show at the Booth Theater looked like the class reunion of 1975. Barry Diller gave a mogul’s embrace to Ron Meyer, the chief operating officer of Universal Studios. He didn’t walk in until his wife Diane von Furstenberg, whom he met through Mengers, arrived. Marlo Thomas, a friend of Mengers, walked the red carpet, as did Angelica Huston.
Some of the people at the Tea Room seemed like they hadn’t seen each other in a long time.
“So nice to say hello to you. I’m Ali MacGraw,” the star said to Carolina Herrera as she walked in. MacGraw had been one of Mengers’ signature clients, friends for 40 years. She and agent Boaty Boatwright and Joanna Poitier, Sidney’s wife, were beside Mengers when she died.
“We took her ashes to Paris,” MacGraw said. She pulled up into one of the Tea Room’s plush red booths, the table in front of her still covered with dirty dishes, for an interview. Bucking convention, MacGraw is a paragon of humility and has aged naturally. For the well-wishers who kept stopping by, she might as well have shot “Love Story” yesterday. She was impressed with Midler’s performance.
“I knew her really, really well, and Bette nailed it,” she said. Mengers would have lapped up the whole production. “She has a brilliant actress. One of the most brilliant young writers. And one of Broadway’s most superb directors. And Graydon Carter put it all together,” she said. Carter, Vanity Fair editor in chief, is one of the play’s producers.
“I think about Sue all the time, so I can’t say that it brought back memories,” MacGraw continued. She doesn’t romanticize the old days. The pictures never got small for her. She ditched them a long time ago, or maybe it was the other way around.
“I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico,” MacGraw said. “I don’t do Hollywood.”