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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.

"We went to stars' houses," he recalls, "all the people who later became my friends. I was a little kid, you know, cute, freckles, they didn't say anything nasty. Of course, I don't like it when tour buses go by my house (in Beverly Hills) now. I chase 'em. I think back sometimes, I did that when I was a kid. Sometimes I come out and wave at people. They say my name, and I wave at 'em."

Young Jerry was an uninterested student at the Horace Mann and Dwight schools, though capable of acing an occasional test to prove a point. Feeling stifled at 17, he joined the Air Force because, says his younger brother, Doug, he said he "liked the color of the uniforms." After training as a radio operator in Biloxi, Miss., he was posted to Alaska. ("I was making $750 a week up there, selling clothes to prostitutes and all kinds of stuff.")

Finishing his service stint in Omaha, Weintraub returned to New York and used the GI Bill to study at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse along with James Caan, Elizabeth Ashley, Brenda Vaccaro and Dabney Coleman. There followed brief stints as a page at NBC and in the mail room at William Morris, then a step up to apprentice agent at MCA, the latter headed by Lew Wasserman, who is still a friend and whose daughter Lynne is a top aide at the new Weintraub Entertainment Group.

Ever fitful, Weintraub left MCA to become junior partner in an agenting business with a man who, according to the family apocrypha, changed the locks on his office door when he realized that his best talent wanted to go with Weintraub. The next couple of years were scenes out of Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose," as Weintraub hustled the circuit of clubs from Cherry Hill to the Catskills.

One of his first major clients was Jane Morgan, a young woman of patrician New England stock who had sung in supper clubs while training at Juilliard as a lyric soprano. She went to Paris to sing in a club, came back stage-savvy and multilingual, and recorded the dulcet "Fascination," a 1957 hit. At first, the manager and his client, who was several years his senior, kept strictly to business; he always brought a third party along when he visited her backstage at such engagements as the Plaza's Persian Room or the Ed Sullivan show (on which she appeared 40 times). Each had already been married, Weintraub to Janice Greenberg, a dentist's daughter from his Bronx neighborhood who had been singer Julius LaRosa's secretary. His time on the road and simple incompatibility broke up the marriage early in its second year. "We were too young to be married, and we were not really in love. We were just kids who came from the same neighborhood." The union produced one child, Michael, who now works for a direct-mail firm in Washington, D.C., but who remains in close touch with his father and stepmother; Weintraub flew to Washington when Michael's wife gave birth to a daughter.

Morgan was divorced not long after Weintraub, but they didn't get around to marrying till one night in Las Vegas in 1964 (according to her) or 1965 (as he insists). Weintraub had just put on his suit for a meeting with a talent booker and Morgan was being made up for a performance at the Flamingo, when a call came canceling his appointment. "Look," he told Morgan, "I'm all dressed up, baby. Want to get married?" The ceremony took place at the Chapel of the Bells. "Fifteen bucks. The guy said, 'You can have organ music or--' I said, 'Just give me what's fast.' "

It was shortly after the wedding that Weintraub sat up in bed one night and declared to his wife that he had just seen a marquee in a vision: "Jerry Weintraub Presents Elvis." He got the number of Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker, and called it every day for a year to hype his idea: Instead of making deals with the local promoter in each city, Parker could leave all the arranging up to Weintraub. Finally the Colonel broke down and called his bluff, telling him to turn up the next day in Las Vegas with a cashier's check for a million dollars. Scrambling frantically to borrow the money (and getting an extension of a few hours), Weintraub flew out from New York with the check to make a handshake deal. At 28, he was sticking his face in with the tough guys. But promoters wanted Elvis. From the booking of that tour, Weintraub never looked back.

He developed his rock 'n' roll territory on the twin tracks of management and tour promotion. His organization for the latter was Concerts West, a name that belies the transcontinental grasp he commanded in the '70s marketplace. Within 10 years, Weintraub had made such good enemies as rival impresario Bill Graham, who in 1976 told Newsweek: "He comes into town like an eagle, scoops up the money and leaves. He tells his acts, 'For a piece of the action I can eliminate certain promoters and agents.' He's more a power broker than a producer."

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