Jerry Weintraub “doesn’t have a filter,” George Clooney fondly says of him early in “His Way,” an enormously entertaining documentary that uses the colorful producer as an eager surrogate to breeze through a half-century of iconic Hollywood and pop music history. The son of a traveling salesman, Weintraub’s career encompasses everything from Elvis and Sinatra to assembling the modern “Ocean’s Eleven” rat pack — and that’s excluding his blunt honesty about adultery and cozy three-way relationship with his wife and girlfriend. As the song says, how lucky can one guy be?
The obvious question is why devote the time to Weintraub, but the answer resides in the who’s-who of luminaries — including former president George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara — who happily weigh in about this one-time “Broadway Danny Rose,” as he describes himself, who began in a talent agency mailroom and went on to earn a fortune by taking Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra on tour. Weintraub parlayed that into producing movies like “Diner” and “The Karate Kid,” saw his movie company go bankrupt, and eventually had a smash by remaking “Ocean’s Eleven,” during which Clooney apparently spent most of his spare time pulling elaborate pranks on the producer.
Weintraub is presented as the classic Hollywood huckster — somebody who got caught by the legendary Lew Wasserman using a company phone for personal purposes, and talked his way out of it; and who blatantly lied to the “Ocean’s” cast about who had already agreed to appear in a sequel, hoping to induce them to sign on.
The most intriguing part, however, might be how casually Weintraub discusses cheating on his wife Jane, to whom he remains married and close, although he now lives with girlfriend Susie Ekins. A squirmy Bush describes the whole thing as “very mature, you might say,” while others suggest it’s the kind of deal only Weintraub could engineer.
Mostly, writer-director Douglas McGrath capitalizes on Weintraub’s skill as a raconteur, telling fabulous stories about Elvis’ manager Col. Parker, Sinatra and others. Perhaps foremost, Weintraub’s experience captures an era in showbiz when it was possible to get filthy rich and have an unapologetic ball doing it.
As for HBO, the channel is doubtless using “His Way” as an excuse to showcase a parade of movie stars in unguarded interviews — and one suspects that’s the sort of showmanship Weintraub can appreciate.