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The Next Tycoon : Jerry Weintraub Helped Launch the Careers of Singers, Actors and Musicians. Now, He's Launching Himself--as Head of a $461-Million Film Production Company.

May 24, 1987|FRED SCHRUERS | Fred Schruers is a contributing editor of Rolling Stone.

There once was a kid with a dream

Whose vision was clean and supreme

He formed Management III

And quick as can be

The dream became one with his scheme . . .

BOB DYLAN, ON JERRY WEINTRAUB

IT'S PRETTY FASCINATING, my life. So, it fascinates people, and when I talk about it like this--the reason I do these interviews--is because I like to try to remember the past myself once in a while. Because it fascinates me when I hear it, and sometimes when I try to sit back from it and look at what I've accomplished and what I've done, it's pretty awesome, you know? Pretty awesome."

Jerry Weintraub delivers his summary of a life in show business evenly, on a slightly catarrhal tide of Bronx patois. What is awesome? Now 49, Weintraub came out of a stint in the Air Force to work as an agent for such clients as Jack Paar and Joey Bishop before launching a multimillion-dollar management (Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan) and concert-presentation career, a career that he left to produce films and television shows under various banners until his new topper: his own $461-million independent production company, the largest privately financed start-up in movie-industry history. Suddenly, Weintraub is making a bid to put his personal stamp on Hollywood much as his hero, Irving Thalberg (the model for F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Last Tycoon"), did five decades earlier.

"Today I'm gonna buy something," Weintraub declares in his street-corner indicative style. (The "something" turns out to be the nearly $85-million Cannon film library.) Weintraub's speech is studded with the relics of his Bronx past--and with references to his acquaintances, who constitute Hollywood's ruling elite. Interrupt, for example, a paean to his buddy George Bush by bringing up the now-defunct candidacy of Gary Hart and his Hollywood point man, Warren Beatty.

"Naw," Weintraub says, "I don't think the (film) industry means a damn thing. Just because Warren Beatty--who's a friend of mine, Warren's a good friend of mine, and so's Gary Hart--just because they put the stamp 'Warren Beatty Likes Gary Hart,' I don't think everybody's going to run around and say, 'I like Gary Hart, too.' "

Or try something along the lines of "I guess you don't see too much of Bob Dylan these days." First you get the look, the Roman head, with its semi-permanent tan and expertly groomed but relentlessly thinning hair, turning slowly: "He was here yesterday, sitting right where you're sitting. We talked for hours. We're doing a 'Best of Bob Dylan' video, with a lot of different great directors. That's my idea, and he wants to do it. He's my friend, you know, a great guy, a perceptive guy."

One doesn't even want to start in with him on such statesmen friends and acquaintances as Armand Hammer (Weintraub's been all over the globe with the industrialist), Teddy Kennedy and Deng Xiaoping. Is there no important figure this man hasn't dealt with along the way? Don't count on it. "I presented some of the most important shows in the history of live theater, and I did it on a regular basis," Weintraub says. "That's pretty fantastic, you know. In retrospect I sit back and I say, 'How the hell did I do that?' You know--'How the hell did I do that?' I didn't do it. God directed me in those arenas, and I went there and I did it."

GOD, WITH THE assistance of Rose Weintraub, brought Jerome Charles Weintraub into the world via Brooklyn on Sept. 26, 1937. Sam Weintraub, who worked in those days as a traveling salesman, was at the ballpark in Cincinnati. He caught the train east and met his firstborn a couple of days later at the family home on Featherbed Avenue in the Bronx. Soon, as Sam grew prosperous in the precious-stone business, the Weintraubs moved to an apartment 10 blocks from the Loew's Paradise Theater, a 1929 fantasy palace where twinkling stars and moving clouds were projected on a deep-blue ceiling. Jerry Weintraub graduated from patron to usher as he grew up. "When I was 3 or 4 I was going to the movies. I loved movies, loved being an usher. There's nothing I didn't like about movies. When I was a little boy I wanted to be in show business."

In 1947 the Weintraubs made a pilgrimage to Hollywood, staying at the Hollywood Roosevelt across from Grauman's Chinese Theater and following in 10-year-old Jerry's wake as he rang doorbells (Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, Jack Benny) and stalked the sidewalk outside Ciro's and the Mocambo, presenting an autograph book from Bronx Public School 70 for the stars to sign. Miss Joan Crawford was so taken with the lad in his cap and English schoolboy's suit that she crushed him against her before getting into her car.

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