Monday, October 26, 2015

TCR on Show Business: "Judy + Liza + Robert + Freddie + David + Sue + ME" by Stevie Phillips

"What is an agent?" asks Stevie Phillips in her recently published memoir Judy + Liza + Robert + Freddie + David + Sue + ME  (St. Martin's Press). Phillips knows the answer. She was once among the most powerful talent agents in the entertainment industry, having shepherded Liza Minnelli and Robert Redford to superstardom.

"An agent is a fraud, but a fraud with good intentions...someone totally willing to sublimate herself to be the person the client wants her to be. Do you want me to be angry on your behalf? Here I am. Do you want me to be docile for you? Here I am. But regardless of what role-playing takes place, an agent must always maintain integrity and never lead a client knowingly in the wrong direction," Phillips writes.

Unlike the legendary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, whose Oscar night parties were the height of Hollywood A-list gatherings. or the world class schmoozer Sue Mengers, such a big personality that she was brought back to life in 2013 by Bette Midler in the one-character Broadway play I'll Eat You Last and is the subject of a just published biography (Can I Go Now? by Brian Kellow) Phillips never became more famous than a lot of her clients. Her stock in trade was cool, calm, behind the scenes efficiency.

Stevie Phillips, 2015.
In classic pre-feminist days style, Phillips begins her career in a secretarial pool, this one at ABC-TV in New York in the late 1950s. Her competence, willingness to work long hours and, she admits, her good looks, get her a temporary gig as a production assistant on the ABC game show Who Do You Trust?, hosted by a not yet famous Johnny Carson. The pretty and hardworking Phillips is included in regular pre-showtime drinks at Sardi's. "The way that guy knocked back two double shots showed me he'd had a lot of practice," Phillips recalls of Carson.

Carson appears only fleetingly in Phillips' narrative and he doesn't seem to have done anything bad to her, yet she pauses to take a swipe at him. Hostility runs through the whole of Phillips writing. This still contemptuous after all these years edginess gives Phillips' memoir a compelling vitality. Decades old events seem as if they happened yesterday.