Saturday 5 June 2010
Dylan Jones: 'Priceless moments in Jerry Weintraub's autobiography include the scene at Gracelands the day after Elvis died'
There are many reasons to recommend Jerry Weintraub's autobiography (written with Rich Cohen), When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead (published by Twelve). Stories about Sinatra. Stories about George Clooney and Brad Pitt (among many other things, Weintraub produced Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen). Stories about George Bush.
Perhaps the best story, though, concerns Weintraub's attempts to promote Bobby Fischer in 1972. Having flown to Reykjavik after seeing him play Boris Spassky every night on PBS, Weintraub secured an audience with the troubled chess wizard in his hotel room. "It was disgusting. There were half-eaten cheeseburgers, Coke cans, crap everywhere. And the smell! Here and there, on the floor, on the bed, Playboy magazines were opened... Fischer was standing in the middle of all this, with an air of, 'Look what time hath wrought'." Having negotiated a record deal with Warners – Fischer was going to teach a six-year-old how to play – Weintraub watched as his new client became increasingly paranoid, and eventually scotched the deal.
Weintraub is the 72-year-old Brooklyn-born, Bronx-raised impresario who produced Robert Altman's Nashville, Barry Levinson's Diner and about 150 Karate Kid films. This is the man who, when Altman pitched him Nashville, was honest enough to tell the director he didn't understand it. "I did not understand the script, but I was totally sold on the director."
There are some priceless moments in the book, not least the scene in Gracelands, the day after Elvis had died there. Weintraub had arrived to pay his condolences, and to tie up some business with Colonel Tom Parker (Weintraub was Presley's promoter). Having pushed his way through the crowds outside, and having paid his respects (Elvis was lying in an open coffin), he was ushered into a room to see Parker having a heated discussion with Vernon Presley, Elvis's father.
And the topic of their conversation? Whether they should sell commemorative T-shirts to the fans outside.
If nothing else, Weintraub's book is a book about the art of the hustle.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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