The 'Mr Fixit' of showbusiness who promoted Elvis and Sinatra and produced the Ocean's heist trilogy
Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30
Jerry Weintraub, who died last Monday aged 77, was a celebrated Hollywood "Mr Fixit" who put Elvis on the road, Frank Sinatra in Madison Square Garden, and George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon into the Ocean's casino heist trilogy.
Weintraub was not a man to underestimate his own capabilities, once boasting "I can get anything done, anywhere, at any time". But it was difficult to disagree with him. He had presidents on his speed dial and, during a career lasting more than half a century, became a dominant force in showbusiness.
"If I had been around with Van Gogh or Melville," he once wrote, "they would not have had to wait so long for fame."
Weintraub's life was one of Tinseltown excess: "I've made all this money, I have private airplanes and yachts, 200 watches, 1,700 pairs of sneakers, and homes all over the place," he told an interviewer in 2013.
A gigantic condominium in Palm Springs (he also had homes in Malibu, Beverly Hills, Cabo San Lucas and Kennebunkport) featured multiple swimming pools snaking around the house, so that his guests could choose which temperature they liked, while he enjoyed taking journalists on tours of his bathroom - "bigger than the whole apartment that I grew up in as a boy".
Indeed, one of his most impressive productions was his own life story, chronicled in a 2010 memoir, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead (written with Rich Cohen).
The son of a travelling jewellery salesman, Jerome Charles Weintraub was born on September 26 1937 in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx.
In his memoir he recalled how, when he was eight, his father came home with a huge, but worthless, star sapphire, a "piece of junk" which he named The Star of Ardaban. He made a case for it, and, with much fanfare, took it on a tour of the country.
At every stop, he was met by armed guards and a local reporter. Once the story of the stone appeared in local papers, he would invite all the jewellers to his hotel to take a look. While they examined it, he sold them everything else in his jewellery case.
"This is a Bible story in my family," Weintraub recalled. "It explains everything you need to know about my father's business and about my own. Though he was selling rubies and sapphires and I am selling Clooney, Pitt and Damon, the trick is the same: packaging."
Bored by school, Weintraub skipped college to join the US Air Force and subsequently got a dogsbody job with NBC. Before long he had become an assistant to Lew Wasserman at the MCA talent agency, working for such clients as Jack Paar and Joey Bishop.
By Weintraub's account he got his big break after having a dream in which he saw a sign in front of Madison Square Garden reading "Jerry Weintraub presents Elvis". The following day he called Elvis's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and told him he would like to take Elvis on the road. Parker rebuffed him, but Weintraub continued to bombard him with telephone calls.
Finally the Colonel called his bluff, telling him to turn up the next day in Las Vegas with a million dollars. After scrambling to borrow the money, Weintraub flew out from New York with the cheque.
He went on to produce the singer's first ever arena tour of the US, by the end of which he was a multi-millionaire and had his own company, Concerts West, which became the largest concert promotion business in the world.
Weintraub went on to work closely with Sinatra, presenting him at Madison Square Garden in a concert called 'The Main Event' that was broadcast around the world.
He also promoted such artists as Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Led Zeppelin, the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues and many others, putting into practice his father's lessons in "packaging": when Led Zeppelin needed to be the loudest band, he had huge fake speakers put on stage. When Elvis needed to sing to a sell-out audience, he had 5,000 seats taken out of an arena. Weintraub was particularly proud of his role in promoting the career of John Denver, claiming to have "cooked [him] from scratch", and admitted that he was deeply hurt when, for obscure reasons, Denver dispensed with his services in 1984.
By the mid-1970s Weintraub had moved into films, making his debut as a producer with Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), which won an Oscar and received a further four nominations.
Other hits included Oh God! (1977), Diner (1982) and The Karate Kid, which became one of the highest-grossing pictures of 1984.
Not everything went Weintraub's way, and in 1990, following a period of overspending and expensive flops, his company was forced to file for bankruptcy.
It took him some years to recover, but he did so in style by pulling together a clutch of Hollywood mega-stars for the Ocean's caper series, which earned more than $1bn at the box office.
Weintraub's recent productions included a successful remake of The Karate Kid (2010) and Behind the Candelabra (2013), a television biopic of Liberace, starring Michael Douglas as the flamboyant pianist and Matt Damon as his much younger lover, which won 11 Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes.
Weintraub managed his personal life in a way that reflected his ability to work things out, no matter what. In 1965 he married Jane Morgan, a torch singer with whom he had three daughters.
They separated but never divorced and at the end of his life Weintraub was living with Sue Ekins. Both survive him with his children, including a son by an earlier marriage.