Shelf Life

Big bets pay off for Jerry Weintraub

Marketplace Staff Apr 6, 2010
Shelf Life

Big bets pay off for Jerry Weintraub

Marketplace Staff Apr 6, 2010


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.

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