Surviving and Thriving in Hollywood at Any Age
A biopic about Liberace starring Michael Douglas in the title role and Matt Damon as his partner? Really? There's only one man in Hollywood -- maybe one man in the entire world -- who could actually get away with something like that, and that would be the mercurial Jerry Weintraub.
In an exclusive interview with AOL, Weintraub went beyond his current passion, which is promoting his new book, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead -- Useful Stories From a Persuasive Man, and talked about several additional aspects of his storied life.
Weintraub grew up in the Bronx, the son of a gem salesman and a homemaker. With limited resources but unlimited chutzpah, Weintraub began promoting and organizing concert tours, working with Elvis Presley and his notorious manager Colonel Parker, while Weintraub was still in his 20s. Frank Sinatra caught wind of him and a short time later, Weintraub conceived and organized Old Blue Eyes' famed "The Main Event Tour." Music legends from John Denver to Led Zeppelin would follow, with Neil Diamond, The Moody Blues and more thrown in as well, all doing work under the banner of Weintraub's famous Concerts West, probably the most important company in the industry at the time.
If you call being best buds with George H. Bush and having sleepovers in the White House "political," Weintraub was political as well; but after concerts, his passion became film. Famed director Robert Altman got him started in that. Weintraub didn't even understand the script for Nashville when he first signed on to produce it, but he understood Altman, and that was what was important. He went on to produce films like Ocean's 11,12 and 13; the Karate Kid movies; Oh God!, Diner, and even a few that didn't work all that well, such as My Stepmother is an Alien and Vegas Vacation. "You can't win every battle," he laughs, and goes on to answer the following questions:
You're notorious for pushing the envelope. How do you know when you've gone too far?
I know I've gone too far only when I lose, and I have done that a few times. But I've learned more from my failures than I have from my successes. As Sinatra sings, you have to "pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again."
What do you consider your greatest professional success?
Well, right now it's having written this book. It's very different from anything I've ever done before. Promoting a book has been very interesting, and even my publisher can't keep up with me. People had been asking me to write a book for years, but then Rich Cohen finally convinced me to do it, and I started having a lot of fun.
Are you nervous about entering a field (publishing) you're not familiar with?
Nervous? Are you kidding? The only thing I ever get nervous about is when my daughters have babies.
You've created and promoted a lot of stars in your career. Who, in your opinion, has the most star quality?
Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Brad Pitt, even Ronald Reagan. Dean Martin had it -- he was your textbook bad boy. I'm a bit of a bad boy myself. That's why I get away with murder.
Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep -- they're beautiful and sexy, yes, but they're also great actors. That's what these stars all have in common. You can't just have one of those things and last.
What do you think sells an entertainment product to the American public?
Two things: Sex, of course. Sex sells, and it's a big part of the entertainment industry. Women like to look at a great-looking man, men like to look at a beautiful woman. The other thing is a story. You have to have a good story. Shakespeare had great stories -- rewriting Shakespeare is not a bad thing to do ... I don't need to do a film in 3-D or have vampires, which are really big right now, all I need is a good story that I believe in.
What started you down this path?
My mother and father. My mother was self-educated through books, and she always read to me. Then she started taking me to movies. My father sold gems, and some he gave stories. One he found he named the Star of Ardaban, and it ended up in the Smithsonian. I visited it recently. When I was about nine years old, he took the family on a trip out to Hollywood. He said he was taking two months off, but he sold jewelry in all the towns we visited on the way. I caught the bug when we visited Grauman's Chinese Theater, and put our hands in the prints in the cement.
Eight-millimeter film clips from that trip, as well as the autograph book Weintraub had the celebrities of the time sign, will be featured in a documentary that's being made of Weintraub's life. This too is a new project for Weintraub; and although he's not producing it, Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, Steven Soderbergh, a couple of talented young brothers named Polsky, and many of Weintraub's buddies -- from George Clooney to Brad Pitt to Matt Damon to Julia Roberts -- will all be involved.
It seems that Weintraub will never run out of new projects to sell, as long as he continues to take his own advice and that of his friend, The Chairman of the Board, to "start all over again."