Big bets pay off for Jerry Weintraub

Jerry Weintraub

A great buddy picture: Jerry Weintraub and Colonel Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, on the road with the King.

Elvis said, "You knew John Kennedy? Well, hey, I know politicians too!" Then proved it by setting up this meeting: me, the Colonel, the Memphis Mafia, George Wallace (seated), Mrs. Wallace, and Elvis (not seated).

Kai Ryssdal, Jerry Weintraub, and his German Shepherd pose for a picture


Kai Ryssdal: If you follow entertainment in this country at all, you've probably heard the name Jerry Weintraub -- even if you can't remember exactly where or how. He's a producer and a manager, he's a sometime actor, also a philanthropist. What you might call "old school" Hollywood. He took Elvis and Sinatra on the road in the 60s. Then came the movies -- "Nashville," "Diner," "The Karate Kid." And most recently "Ocean's 11, 12 and 13" with Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

Scene from "Ocean's 11:" Why do this? Why not do it? Because yesterday I walked out of the joint after losing four years of my life and you're cold decking teen-beat cover boys. Because the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes and the house takes -- unless when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big and then you take the house.

Jerry Weintraub's been betting big his whole career. It's a story he tells in his new biography, "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead." We went out to his house in Beverly Hills last week. And I asked him how he got into the business to begin with.

Jerry Weintraub: I think I naturally found my way into it. Because my mother went to movies all the time, she loved film. My mother tried never to leave New York and she traveled the world through the movies.

Ryssdal: You started, though, in music -- with arranging shows and production.

Weintraub: Yeah. I've had a long, interesting career. But I was in music, yes. I was in business with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, John Denver, and production business and the music business, and the music publishing business. And I controlled most of the arenas in the country in the late 60s and early 70s.

Ryssdal: You actually revolutionized that concert business a little bit because you took the middleman out of the arrangement, right? Those local guys who controlled those markets.

Weintraub: Correct. I did. They weren't very happy about it.

Ryssdal: Yeah, I bet.

Weintraub: In those days, there were local promoters in each city that controlled different areas of the country. But when I got Elvis, he was such an important attraction. And I was able to go directly to the arenas and make deals.

Ryssdal: That's an amazing thing to be able to say, "When I got Elvis." Tell us the story of how you wound up in business with Elvis Presley.

Weintraub: I sleep -- still do -- with a pad and pencil next to my bed. And I had a dream one night, and I wrote down, "Jerry Weintraub presents Elvis Presley at Madison Square Garden." Wrote it down on a piece of paper, showed it to my wife, and she said, "Why don't you go back to sleep?" She said, "You know Elvis Presley?" I said, "No I don't know Elvis Presley." She said, "Well, how are you going to do this?" I said, "I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I'm going to do it because I wrote it down." Next morning, I called his manager, a man named Colonel Tom Parker. And he got on the phone, talked to me, and I said I want to take Elvis Presley on concert tour. And he said to me, "Not a chance. Not going to happen." And for the next year -- one solid year -- I called him every morning when I got up.

And one day he said to me, "You still want my boy for concerts?" And I said yes. He said, "OK. You come to Las Vegas tomorrow, bring me a check for $1 million, or cash, either one. A million dollars. Now in those days, I thought only one person had $1 million -- Rockefeller. I didn't know anybody that had $1 million. A million dollars was way out of my league.

Ryssdal: How old were you?

Weintraub: I was a kid, 20-something years old. But I got the million dollars to the Colonel, we sat down. Three weeks later, and I ended up in San Diego and I was a multimillionaire.

Ryssdal: Could that happen today, do you think?

Weintraub: No.

Ryssdal: It's kind of too bad, isn't it?

Weintraub: Too bad?

Ryssdal: Yeah, don't you think?

Weintraub: It can't happen. It's not going to happen again.

Ryssdal: But some young kid out there who's got the same kind of chutzpah that you do, I mean...

Weintraub: It's not about chutzpah. I just didn't know what the hell I was doing.

Ryssdal: Well there are lots of kids like that.

Weintraub: And I don't take no for an answer. I never have taken no for an answer in my career, in anything I've done.

Ryssdal: This is going to sound maybe a little bit pejorative. But it's not meant that way.

Weintraub: Pejorative? How do you know I know what that word means?

Ryssdal: I'm figuring you've been around for awhile. There is a great sense you get from reading your book that a huge part of how you got things done was just kind of winging it, and seeing what happens?

Weintraub: No. I can see where you would think that I was winging it, but I had a purpose with everything that I did. I didn't do anything that I didn't think wasn't going to count or wasn't going to be an event -- including this book. The book has to be an event for me, or I won't be happy.

Ryssdal: Does it ever get tiring, though, always having to make something out of something?

Weintraub: No! No. It's what I do. I love it. It gets me up in the morning. No. No. Not even a little bit.

Ryssdal: Jerry Weintraub tells the story of his life in a book called, "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead." Mr. Weintraub, thanks a lot.

Weintraub: Thank you.

A great buddy picture: Jerry Weintraub and Colonel Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, on the road with the King.

Elvis said, "You knew John Kennedy? Well, hey, I know politicians too!" Then proved it by setting up this meeting: me, the Colonel, the Memphis Mafia, George Wallace (seated), Mrs. Wallace, and Elvis (not seated).

Kai Ryssdal, Jerry Weintraub, and his German Shepherd pose for a picture

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For those of you who wanted to know how Jerry got the money, sorry but it got cut out of the original interview. But we brought it back just for you... Here's the story boiled down to its essence... Weintraub called everyone he knew. Finally someone said hey, I know a guy who knows a guy. Call him. So Jerry did. "And he said what will you give me for a million dollars? I said I'll give you half of my concert business. He said Ok, I'll have my lawyers see your lawyers and we'll make a deal and I said "no, you don't understand. I need a million dollars NOW, but you can trust me, my word is my bond." In those days we did business like that, we shook hands, people talked to each other. We didn't have computers and the internet didn't exist and if you made a deal with somebody, you made a deal." Good old days, right?

I work at a start up and Weintraub's story of landing Elvis is a great example of the kind of relentlessness you need to succeed as an entrepreneur. Thanks for the reminder Mr. Weintraub! http://bit.ly/dbXMxD

You are a Man of Honor, and some one to be looked up to. I have someone who wants to help Haiti but she can;t do it alone she is disabled, but has something to give If you need a new cause.

For those wanting to know Here's how Jerry drummed up his mill...


I hung up and I said to my wife, 'You see. I told you I was gonna get Elvis Presley'. And she said, 'Well, you got one little obstacle here. You know, you owe the bank $65,000 as it is. Where you gonna get a million dollars?' And I said, 'I'll get. I'm gonna get it'. And I went to all the people that I knew in show business and out of show business and they used to smack me on the back and they would say, 'Listen kid, you're gonna really do great. You're gonna make it and so on'. And I said 'Loan me some money. I want to -- I have this deal with Elvis Presley. I need a million dollars'. You know, people thought I was either on drugs or smoking something. They thought I was nuts because I was a kid, and low and behold I stayed on the phone all night.

And I went to Vegas to continue my calls so I can meet the Colonel at 11. At 8:30 the next morning, I finally made a connection through a lawyer in New York who knew a guy in Seattle, Washington, who was a big Elvis fan and owned radio stations and he said to me, 'I think this guy might do it'. I said, 'You don't understand. I got two hours. It's not might do it. It's I got two hours. I don't have time for papers. I don't have time for anything legal. I need a million bucks now. Cash. Cash money. I have to meet Tom Parker at the International Hotel in Las Vegas'. I said, 'I have to be over there. That's where he's gonna be. He's gonna be at the roulette table where he spent many hours of his life and I have to find him and give him the million dollars'.

To think that there was a time in America when a young man with little more than daily access to Elvis Presley's manager and a million dollars in cash could make his dream a reality.
What an inspiration!

I totally agree with John. There are a lot of biographies out there that dont ever mention how they wound up with the seed money. I mean its ok if they say that their parents loaned them the money, if that's really the case. But it would have been a lot fascinating if they found it under the table they were waiting for.

A fascinating story, but I was disappointed not to hear how Mr. Weintraub was able to get ahold of a million dollars in a day. To me, that was half the story and the part that would likely have interested me most.

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