To Jerry Weintraub, leading means loving what you do and never running from risks
As the title of his enchanting autobiography, “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead,” suggests, producer-manager-entrepreneur Jerry Weintraub has a lot to say about a lot of things.
Most of his observations are worth a listen, if only for the pure entertainment value of a guy who refreshingly shares his views on everything from life itself — “I don’t have any fear about anything except the health of people I care about” — to imbibing, “I don’t need anyone around to have a good time.”
But Variety’s Creative Leadership Award honoree’s words resonate because of his astonishing track record, which includes managing and promoting concerts for such legends as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan, as well as producing hit films like “The Karate Kid,” and cultural keepers such as Robert Altman’s “Nashville” and Steven Soderbergh’s recent multiple Emmy-winner “Behind the Candelabra.”
Dressed casually, seated in the comfy living room of his luxurious Beverly Hills home where he’s been based since selling his longtime Malibu manse for a reported $42 million, Weintraub proclaims himself “not a big Hollywood guy.”
He does quickly note, “I’ve got the yacht and the Rolls-Royce,” but his point is that his success is driven not by desire but as a result of “never being impressed by celebrity and never being afraid.”
“Of course, success takes the fear away, but even before I was successful, I always bonded with artists,” he says. “Whether it was a singer or actor or filmmaker, they always respected me, and I bonded with them because fear has never been in my vocabulary.”
Weintraub remains in awe of what the creative community accomplishes every day.
“Great artists start with a blank canvas,” Weintraub says. “Then, if there’s a wrong color, they have to know it and change it. That’s true of actors and musicians and anyone who creates for a living.”
In his early days, Weintraub’s brash, decisive approach to business was appreciated by the leaders he was hoping to emulate, but went over less felicitously with his peers.
“I enjoyed my mentors a lot more than my peers because my peers all thought I was crazy. I heard the same mantra from them over and over: ‘You can’t do that! It’s no good!’ But I knew I could do it, and I knew I was right. The truth is, they were afraid of me and afraid of the risks I was taking. But people who’d been through it and were successful were not afraid of me.”
Not that success means the naysayers magically disappear. Weintraub notes “Candelabra” took him 12 years to make. “Nobody wanted it. But (HBO’s) Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo got it.”
While Weintraub boasts that he had no missed opportunities, he also admits one gig did get the best of him. “Being an agent is an impossible job. You spend your day with a phone list of people you don’t want to call back.”
Over the course of a six-decade career, the 76-year-old Weintraub has observed some leadership attributes that help explain the success of the individuals who’ve changed American culture.
In Weintraub’s view, “Elvis knew what he was doing, and he knew what he was hearing. He knew what he wanted to hear, and if he didn’t hear it, he wasn’t shy about letting his associates know it.
“Streisand was a perfectionist, but Sinatra was the most fastidious guy I ever worked with. He was a perfectionist onstage, and he also wanted perfection off stage. He had a dinner party almost every night, and he drove his caterers crazy. He’d be up cleaning the ashtrays if they were dirty. He didn’t want glasses stacked on the bar like it was a restaurant.”
Weintraub readily acknowledges that Sinatra’s perfectionism may well have rubbed off on him, as did his take-it-or-leave-it approach.
“I like ideas, creativity, beauty and emotion — qualities that touch all the senses,” he says. “See, I can sit down and have a bottle of wine and a bowl of pasta with the president of the United States, the head of the Mafia or the queen of England. And I have a sixth sense whether or not they’re full of shit. The problem is, I usually tell them.”