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Jerry Weintraub: The go-to guy to get connected

AUTHORS & IDEAS

Weintraub worked with Elvis and Sinatra. He headed a studio. And now he's written a memoir that's also how-to guide.

April 04, 2010|By RJ Smith
  • Jerry Weintraub still stays connected, even from his home overlooking the valley in Palm Desert, Calif.
Jerry Weintraub still stays connected, even from his home overlooking… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

"Look at me, do I look like an alter kocker?" Jerry Weintraub asks. Verily, he does not. At the moment, he looks like a guy ready to swing a golf club at a visitor for asking him if he feels like -- to offer a rough translation from the Yiddish -- an old fart.

At 72, Jerry Weintraub is still swinging. He has just come out with his autobiography: "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories From a Persuasive Man" (Twelve: 292 pp., $25.99). For a fat tract of the last half of the last century, Weintraub was the Man Behind the Man, whether the man was Sinatra, Elvis or George H.W. Bush.

Long ago, Weintraub realized that the guy who does favors is never far from the guy who has favors done for him. One thing parlays into another. His firm, Concerts West, revolutionized the form in the 1960s. He managed recording artists and then moved on to producing television, Broadway shows and movies. He became chairman of United Artists. And he still works the phone.

"I get calls every morning," Weintraub says from the deck of his Palm Desert mountaintop oasis. "Really I am a concierge, because the first 150 things I do in the day are for somebody else -- get somebody rooms in Vegas, tickets for James Taylor, can you get me into this hospital, get me into that college?"

"When I Stop Talking" is anything but a rote, let-the-record-show memoir. In it he tells about the folks he's known and worked with: He describes the statue of the Buddha that Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker, kept in a cabinet in his motel room on the road and how he almost cast Japanese actor Toshirô Mifune in "The Karate Kid." How he got Bob Dylan to perform on the Chabad telethon he produced, how he hung out with Bobby Fischer and tried to make an album, teaching a kid how to play chess, with him.

Although it's packed with stories he's surely been telling at dinner forever, the book is also a modest set of guidelines for how you too can be a successful mogul. "A lot of it comes from my father," he says. "He told me when you walk in to work, in the office, just say 'Good morning' and go to work. Whatever you do, don't say, 'How are you?' Because people will tell you -- and there goes half your day."

More than that, it's written with stealth and style, doubtless shaped by his co-writer, Rich Cohen, who profiled Weintraub for Vanity Fair in 2008. The book, really, is a performance, a monologue by a guy comfortable hanging with Armand Hammer at Leonid Brezhnev's funeral or with Joey Bishop at a deli. It's a show based on horse pucky on braggadocio. As Weintraub writes: "If I had been around with Van Gogh or Melville, they would not have had to wait so long for fame." Weintraub has been married twice, the second time to singer Jane Morgan. They never divorced, and she gave him her blessing to live with his new discovery, Susie Ekins. " Warren Beatty, lothario of lotharios, once asked me the secret. 'How did you make it work, Jerry?' "

He's a steamroller with gold cuff links. His gift, he likes to say, is packaging, and what he most of all packages -- even better than a show or a movie -- is an impression. When he started booking shows for Led Zeppelin, the band complained that the sound system was not loud enough. Weintraub vowed to fix that. He spent the day of the next show painting speaker-size cardboard boxes black and making a wall of fake speakers beside the stage. That night, the band was impressed, and grateful, that Weintraub was able to deliver. He had fooled them, but he had satisfied them. "If you expect loud, loud is what you are going to hear," he writes.

Everything Weintraub's gotten in life has been based on a capacity for making connections. Even he can't fully explain it. He tells the story of how he became friends with Bud Ekins, Hollywood stuntman and Susie's father. Quietly, Weintraub steered the hard-living brawler, and Catholic, to Judaism on his deathbed. Weintraub was asked to speak at the funeral. He felt a need to tell the assembled friends what Ekins had done in his last days and why a rabbi was presiding over the funeral. He knew they would be shocked.

"I spoke of how he had decided to become a Jew. Many of the mourners looked confused. These were stuntmen and bikers, hundreds of tough guys with long hair and leather coats, giant guys named Tiny. 'Let me explain why he became a Jew,' I said. 'Because Bud Ekins did not want to confess his sins.' With that, the stuntmen and bikers went wild."

Endlessly suggesting, relentlessly convincing -- and then spinning the result. It's what Weintraub has done his entire life.

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