Jerry Weintraub, the producer of “Nashville,” “Diner,” “The Karate Kid” and the trio of “Ocean’s Eleven” films, died Monday, July 6, 2015, of cardiac arrest in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 77.
When you dig through all the craziness of my life, you'll see that I'm just a guy from the Bronx who knows how to attract a crowd – Jerry Weintraub
Jerry Weintraub just may be the most brilliant salesperson alive today. One of a handful of select showmen that includes the likes of Mike Todd and P.T. Barnum. In case you haven’t been in a bookstore lately, his 2010 autobiography When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man (available here), is a hit.
Not surprising. After all, Jerry’s tales are the stuff of fables that rival Aesop’s for life lessons. But wait, there’s more ... he is the best at this most underrated skill: “Selling,” the true measure of which are his successes as a manager-promoter-producer-
Selling? Underrated? Think about it. You may have Streisand’s voice, written a modern-day War and Peace, or yes, even come up with a winning solution to the Mideast crisis. But if you can’t sell it -- if you can’t shop it, execute it, promote it, you’re just another guy/gal bemoaning what “might have been” to your mate over flanken.
“Packaging. That’s my talent. If I’d been around with Van Gogh or Melville, they wouldn’t have had to wait so long for fame.” – Jerry Weintraub
Meet Jerry Weintraub. A human phenomenon who, starting in his twenties, managed the careers of some of the biggest stars in the world (Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, The Carpenters, Neil Diamond to name a few); created the concept of the concert tour for pop music icons; produced Broadway and motion picture hits (Nashville, Diner, Oh God!, the Ocean's films, Karate Kid series); and headed up United Artists.
Click below to view the trailer for The Karate Kid
If Jerry were merely a good “spielmeister,” either his 15 minutes would’ve been up long ago, or he’d be hawking “Get With the Program!” DVDs on a Shopping Network. Not Jerry. At 72, his time just gets longer, along with his many honors, which includes UNICEF 2010 Man of the Year, lifetime achievement awards, Producer of the Year awards (from the National Association of Theater Owners), a seat on the board of the Kennedy Center, and, he has the distinction of being the only producer to have his hands and feet imprinted in front of the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theater!
But wait ... there’s more. Pick a time – any time, and you might catch him shmoozing with longtime pal George Bush Sr., Will Smith, “Bibi” Netanyahu, or George Clooney. And yes, phoning and flying around to meet world leaders, also his buddies, in support of Israel – if Israel asks him to do so.
“This was not a theater; it was a synagogue. Everything I wanted was up on the screen.” – Jerry Weintraub.
What did it take for this Brooklyn-born, Bronx-raised Jewish boy to go from dreaming the Big Dreams at the Roxy theater, to shaking things up in Hollywood and on the world stage?
Simple. It took brains. Not the kind of “brains” you can learn at Wharton. No. Sachel (smarts). The kind of brains that come from a Yiddishe kop in high gear: a talent for trend-spotting, a “never-take-no” perseverance, and a “joy of the chutzpah” to master the “art of the spiel.”
[Moral: “I never hear the word ‘no.’ It’s called chutzpah, and it works.” – Jerry Weintraub]
It took guts. The kind of guts that infuses your bravado with the confidence and skill to win and keep the trust of Presidents and Hollywood royalty, starting with – a King. In his own words:
“I got up in the middle of the night, three o'clock in the morning. I said to my wife, 'I just had this crazy dream. I saw a sign in front of Madison Square Garden that said 'Jerry Weintraub presents Elvis.' She said, 'That's crazy. You don't know Elvis. You don't know Colonel Parker.' I said, 'I'm telling you. G-d sent me a sign that I’m gonna do this.'”
So, he set off on this “holy” mission impossible. For one year, he refused to take a “no” from the fearsome Colonel Parker who finally, worn down, set the young impresario a staggering challenge: meet him in Las Vegas with a million bucks. Meshugge? You bet. (Jerry was in the hole for 65K.) Part keystone comedy, with a splash of the “Oceans” movies he would later produce, the “kid,” just a few years out of the mail room at William Morris, not only took a giant risk, but convinced a backer to share it by offering a full half of his future earnings from concerts. [Moral: “You give up something to get something, you get something and you give something” – Jerry Weintraub.] He paid the Colonel – and met his “Jerry Weintraub presents Elvis” destiny.
Click below to view trailer for Ocean's Eleven
A destiny that was a combination of DNA and mentoring from dad, Sam, a gem dealer. So great was Sam’s influence, that the father-son relationship became a life theme for Jerry, one he produced years later on the big screen with The Karate Kid. When Jerry was eight, his father returned home from a business trip with “the largest star sapphire in the world,” the “Star of Ardaban,”which he put in a case under lock and key. Armored guards and reporters in tow, Sam took it across country to delight customers. But wait ... there’s more. The “Star” was a piece of junk. [Moral: “It’s not the gem people buy, it’s the story, the romance behind the gem.”– Jerry Weintraub] While Sam’s customers were “romancing the stone,” they also bought what Sam was selling. And so, the elder Weintraub taught his son the value of a good story – and guts.
“I’ve never been frightened of anybody or anything in my life.” – Jerry Weintraub
Enough guts to stand-up for Israel, and We Jews, today. This just may be among his most daunting achievements. Jerry Weintraub is not afraid to speak out. Unlike many of his Hollywood lantslaite who are quietly cancelling pro-Israel appearances in fear of tainting their “liberal” labels, risking careers and country club memberships, Jerry Weintraub is a stand-up guy. You won’t find Jerry cowering behind Beverly Hills bushes. He not only knows where he stands, but will tell you. Just as he’ll tell presidents and prime ministers.
“I was never ashamed of what I was. When I left [the Bronx] at 17, I carried it with me and I never tried to hide it. I don’t understand Jews who don’t want to be Jews, who are ashamed to be Jews, who want so much to assimilate.”– Jerry Weintraub
His devotion to Jews and to Israel is absolute. He’s a world-class philanthropist, “giving back,” to a variety of groups, causes, and institutions, including Hebrew University and Chabad. But more ... he’s a creator/producer of the Chabad Telethon, where he can be seen on TV, dancing joyfully (and unabashedly) with the Rabbis. The Telethon now raises over $8 million a year.
Working with good friend and Vice-President at the time, George Bush Sr., he played an instrumental, if unofficial, role in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews (Operation Moses and Operation Joshua) in the mid-1980s, and earlier with Rufuseniks in Russia.
He firmly supports Israel as our homeland, and preserving Jerusalem as capital. He also believes that the Palestinians should have their own place to live, which is a source of internal conflict for Jerry, who describes himself as “a Likud.”
But, Jerry, “an American Jew, not a Jewish-American,” sees boundaries. While all Jews are “family” – the best of families respect limits. Yes, American Jews should support Israel financially and politically, but, “We should not meddle in their affairs.” In other words, MYOB. Says Weintraub, “They have a difference psyche, a different political system, a different way of doing things. We can’t dictate to them any more than they should dictate to us.” [Moral: “Stay out of what you don’t understand.”– Jerry Weintraub.] It was a painful lesson learned first-hand. On one occasion when, at the behest of powerful American Jews, Jerry “interfered” over a critical issue, he was abruptly told it was a non-issue by Israel’s PM. The implication was clear. “You don’t have the facts. You don’t know what we know.” Tail between his legs, it was a mistake he vowed never to make again. Would he get involved if asked by this administration? Only by invitation – from the Israelis.
Jerry Weintraub has had a giant journey. But, as with most who are larger-than-life, it hasn’t come without sacrifices. Balancing a world-class career and paying enough attention to family wasn’t an easy mix. It’s hard to be father of the year to four children when you’re working till four a.m. “You make a decision, a choice,” he readily admits. Has this been a factor in his passionate relationship with Israel, and philanthropy. Probably. If there’s a scorecard “up there,” Jerry would want to cut a good deal.
But wait ... there’s more. It’s also hard to have a world-class career and be one of the good guys. In this, he has been a resounding success.
Now, at 72, it seems as if he’s just starting:
Still filled with the wonderment that fueled his Big Dreams at the Roxy.
Still a “fan,”
Still enthralled with giving talent a stage,
And still seeing in neon: “Jerry Weintraub presents ...”
The author would like to thank Mitch Julis for his invaluable contribution to this article.