"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.|
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.
|Judy Garland, c. 1960|
F&D get their new company (which eventually becomes the powerful Creative Management Associates or CMA) off the ground by engineering a comeback for Judy Garland via an extensive concert tour. At this point -- 1960 -- Garland is seriously overweight and living in relative isolation in London. As soon as Garland lands back in the USA, Phillips is given the task of looking after this extremely high maintenance star. "Judy was needy to the point of desperation, and they [F&D] had to find a way to handle it," Phillips writes.
|Liza and Judy, 1960 (photo/Getty Images).|
|Stevie Phillips, 1960s.|
Occasionally, the tough talking Phillips exhibits some sympathy for the troubled star. "Put her in an institution. Get her the help she needs! That's the scream that was raging inside me. It never came out of my mouth. Could anyone have institutionalized Judy without her permission? Maybe not, but it didn't matter because there we no candidates. Everyone was too busy exploiting her," Phillips writes.
Garland, despite her selfish excesses, isn't the villain in Phillips' book. That role goes to the D in F&D, David Begelman, who is portrayed as a scoundrel of the first order. "He was a slime," Phillips writes of Begelman, who later became a leading Hollywood film studio executive. At first, Phillips is captivated by Begelman's sophistication and his beautifully tailored suits. As the years pass, the dazzle fades. "He was toxic," Phillips says."His was the charm of a psychopathic personality: totally flamboyant, witty, intelligent, and intellectual on the one side; a liar, a cheat, a complete fraud, irresponsible, and self-destructive on the other."
|David Begelman. "He was a slime," says Phillips.|
The F in F&D, the handsome Freddie Fields, is a "sport-coated, charming smart aleck." Phillips praises Fields, who died in 2007, as a "wonderful mentor" and "one of the all time best agents on the planet." She also calls Fields a "user" and suggests that he must have known about the illegal and immoral activity Begelman was engaged in while they were business partners but chose to look the other way.
|Liza Minnelli in Flora, the Red Menace,|
Broadway, 1965 (photo/Friedman-Abeles).
Initially acting out of pity, Phillips helps Minnelli -- whom she refers to as "Li" -- get a part in an Off-Broadway revival of the musical Best Foot Forward. To the surprise of all, Minnelli shines in the production. Phillips capitalizes on this success by booking Minnelli as a guest on television variety and talk shows (abundant in the 1960s) and getting her on Broadway in the musical Flora. the Red Menace. Flora is a flop but earns Liza a Tony Award.
|Liza's wedding to Peter Allen, New York, 1967. "I was|
heartbroken for Liza," Phillips writes
Phillips organizes Minnelli's 1967 wedding to singer-composer Peter Allen, mainly because nobody else is interested in doing it. "I watched and waited, but there was only shattering silence. I was heartbroken for Liza," Phillips writes. The wedding is the last time Phillips sees Garland, who dies two years later. "She was wrinkled and pale and so wasted that I momentarily lost the ability to speak...she was macabre," Phillips recalls.
Phillips isn't directly responsible to the two projects that propel Minnelli to superstardom -- the television special Liza with a Z and the film version of Cabaret. "All I can boast about is that I brought Liza, along with her hard work and considerable talent, to a place where the sale of this show [Liza with a Z] could profitably be made," Phillips explains.
|Robert Redford, 1960s. Before the Sundance shagginess.|
Or more than forty years. In the summer of 2015, at approximately the same time Phillips released her memoir, Redford, who is, along with Phillips, approaching age eighty, released his latest film, A Walk in the Woods.
|Redford, 1974. He looks great |
but the movie "wasn't good."
In 1975, Redford leaves Phillips and CMA for another agency. Phillips admits that his departure is mostly due to her failing to understand that he needed to be challenged. "I dropped the ball by not knowing he wanted to direct, by not pushing the envelope with him...I was on automatic pilot," Phillips writes in a rare display of humility. Indeed, Phillips speaks of Redford in an almost reverential tone. She thanks him for giving her "the American West as a present...he showed me the beauty of that part of our country for the first time. I owe him."
|Phillips and Liza, c. 1972|
(Photo/Stevie Phillips via Columbia University website)
The new agents send Minnelli, who Phillips depicts as something of a dimwitted party girl, out on concert tours that are lucrative but do nothing for her long term career."They weren't film packagers trained by Freddie Fields; they were merely order takers," Phillips says. The pressures of touring leave Minnelli vulnerable to bad habits. "[I]t was rumored that most of Liza's earnings were going right up her nose," Phillips says. Minnelli's movie stardom, which Phillips had planned to carefully nurture, dies from neglect. In the ensuing decades, an increasingly pathetic Minnelli occasionally contacts Phillips, sometimes for career advice, sometimes just looking for a shoulder to cry on. "I had been the most stable person in her life. We both knew that," Phillips writes.
|Bette Midler as superagent Sue Mengers in I'll Eat You|
Last, Booth Theater, Broadway, 2013.
All agents want to be producers, Phillips says. Eventually Phillips becomes a producer, too, by working out a deal for Universal Pictures to back the Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The show, opening in 1978, is a smash. Following through with the deal Phillips helped to craft, Universal comes out with a screen version. The movie, released in 1982, is a dud. Phillips blames the failure of the movie on star Burt Reynolds. "He was tasteless," Phillips says of Reynolds "He made changes to the script and the casting that turned a funny and touching show into a sadly second-rate movie."
|Actress Joan Hackett, 1960s.|
A question that Phillips leaves unexplored is why some performers with potential don't become big stars. F&D's very first client back in 1960 was Freddie Fields' then-wife, the actress/singer Polly Bergen. Bergen, who died in 2014, had a long but haphazard career that included major roles on television, Broadway, and in films but nothing panned out sufficiently to take her to first rank stardom. Another early F&D client was the actress Joan Hackett. Hackett, who died of cancer in 1983 at age forty-nine, appeared regularly in films and on television in the 1960s and 1970s and is always interesting to watch if you happen to catch her in reruns. "Joan was an actress with [a] wonderful voice and a certain quirkiness that separated her from the rest of the blond beauties," Phillips writes but adds nothing more other than a mention that she and Hackett became "great pals" and that it was Hackett who first introduced her to Redford. One is left to wonder whether the machinations of superagents like Phillips and Freddie and David and Sue may not matter so much if good luck isn't part of the deal.