Jerry Weintraub: Agent, promoter and producer who worked with Elvis and Sinatra and made films with Clooney, Pitt and Altman


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The Independent Online

One of the last of the classic Hollywood showmen, Jerry Weintraub built his show business empire on a Rolodex and chutzpah. The Brooklyn-born son of a Bronx jeweller, he rose from the post room of a talent agency to become a successful concert promoter before shifting into a decades-long career as a Hollywood producer. Along the way he worked with stars of the magnitude of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, George Clooney and Brad Pitt and was a close friend of former President George HW Bush. He relished his insider status, just as they savoured the stories that poured out of him.

"Jerry was an American original who earned his success by the sheer force of his instinct, drive, and larger-than-life personality," said Bush. "He had a passion for life, and throughout the ups and downs of his prolific career, it was clear just how much he loved show business."

Weintraub failed in one of his most ambitious gambits. His attempt to found his own studio, Weintraub Entertainment Group, ended in bankruptcy after three years. But his long career – very much alive at the time of his death– was marked by innovation (he was among the first to stage arena tours) and old-school class.

Weintraub had his choice lunch spots in Los Angeles, his desert home in Palm Springs and his favoured places to moor his yacht off the French Riviera. A self-made man, he fashioned himself in the mould of old Hollywood showmen like Mike Todd, Cecil B DeMille and PT Barnum. He titled his 2011 memoir When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead. He joked he might write another: Dead, But Still Talking.

One of his most recent successes was the 2013 Liberace drama Behind the Candelabra. When the studios passed on it he took it to HBO, for whom it won 11 Emmys. He left numerous projects behind, including the recently debuted HBO series The Brink with Jack Black, and a forthcoming big-budget remake of Tarzan.

"If asked my philosophy, it would be simply this: Savour life, don't press too hard, don't worry too much. Or as the old-timers say, 'Enjoy,'" he wrote in his book. "But ... I never could live by this philosophy and was, in fact, out working, hustling, trading, scheming, and making a buck as soon as I was old enough to leave my parents' house." Weintraub said his father, a successful gem salesman, taught him that "only two things are important at the end of the week: how much you owe the bank and how much you have in it."

Taken on in the post room of the William Morris Agency, Weintraub then landed a job with Lew Wasserman's MCA, where he worked as advance man for the agency's stars. His career as a promoter took a giant step in 1970 when after a lengthy courtship he persuaded Elvis Presley's manager, Tom Parker, to let him promote Presley concerts. It was at a time when Elvis was beginning to do live shows after years of concentrating on films. Weintraub and his partner Tom Hulett introduced such improvements as a modern sound system, and they were propelled into the top ranks of promoters.

Around the same time, Weintraub saw John Denver at a small Greenwich Village night club and, overwhelmed by the mountaineer's easy manner, took him on. "He would be a test case for all my theories on selling and packaging, for everything I had learned since I left home," Weintraub recalled.

After enormous success followed, Denver bought Weintraub a Rolls-Royce as a thank-you. Weintraub said, "I couldn't help thinking that it wasn't too long ago that neither of us had bus fare." He produced a dozen Denver TV specials, winning an Emmy for one of them, as well as the hit 1977 film Oh, God! which starred George Burns as God and Denver as the young grocer God approaches to spread his message.

Weintraub set up successful tours for Sinatra and produced the television special Sinatra – the Main Event, as well as joint appearances with Denver. Among other musicians he worked with were Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond and the Beach Boys.

After his first marriage (which resulted in a son, Michael), Weintraub married the torch singer Jane Morgan in 1965. They had three adopted children: Julie, Jamie and Jordy. The pair separated but never divorced.

Weintraub's emphasis shifted to films with 1975's Nashville, Robert Altman's acclaimed comedy-drama of American life seen through the eyes of 24 characters in and around the country music business. It earned five Oscar nominations, including best picture. In his memoir, Weintraub said he didn't understand the complicated script, but he was eager to produce it because "Altman did, and it was Altman who was going to make the movie."

Weintraub went on to produce such notable films as Barry Levinson's Diner, All Night Long, The Karate Kid and William Friedkin's controversial Cruising, which starred Al Pacino as an undercover policeman seeking a serial killer preying on gay men.

He became chief of United Artists in 1985 but was ousted after five months amid reports of disagreements with the financier Kirk Kerkorian, who died last month. He later reached a settlement with the company. In 1987 he set up his own studio, WEG, but it closed in 1990 after a string of flops including My Stepmother Is an Alien. "I had, in a sense, promoted myself out of the job I always wanted, which was telling stories, producing," he wrote. "[The films] now were being made for me instead of by me."

Weintraub continued producing, putting out such films as Vegas Vacation and Ocean's Eleven and its starry sequels. In 2010 he remade The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith, Will Smith's son. Weintraub said he "questioned it 150,000 times" before backing it.

Starting in the 1980s, Weintraub became known as one of the Republican Party's most loyal supporters in Hollywood. He had been close to Bush years before he became president, and in 1991 he hosted a star-studded party for the president at his Malibu home and played golf with Bush and his predecessor Ronald Reagan.

Jerome Charles Weintraub, talent agent, concert promoter and film producer: born New York 26 September 1937; married 1965 Jane Morgan (four children); died Santa Barbara, California 6 July 2015.