You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ralph Macchio Remembers Jerry Weintraub and Making ‘The Karate Kid’ (Guest Column)

I don’t think anyone forgets the first time they meet Jerry Weintraub. For me, one of my earliest memories of him was on the set of the original “The Karate Kid” in 1983. He was in his office at Bungalow 1 of the Columbia Pictures lot. He had a golf car with a Rolls Royce grille parked out right in front, whereas everybody else had a standard beige golf cart. On that day, Jerry strutted past me and called out loudly to his assistant, “Get me George Bush on the phone.” He was wearing this khaki safari-like jacket, big sunglasses and he always had swagger in his walk.

While I was making the first three “Karate Kid” movies, Jerry was an influential figure in my career. He’d say to me as recently as our last conversation, “I love you like a son.” But he was more like an uncle. After the first “Karate Kid” screened and everybody was doing the crane kick in the parking lot, he put his arm around me and said, “You’re going to be making a few of these.” I was contracted for three. This was the beginning of when studios had an idea, and they would get you for two more. At the time, this movie was Jerry’s baby and I was the right kid right at the right time. It was a role that changed my life.

A big debate early on was that Jerry didn’t want Pat Morita to play Mr. Miyagi. He supposedly said, “There’s no way Arnold from ‘Happy Days’ is going to be in the movie.” Jerry would never admit that he was wrong. But he later came to Pat and said, “I almost made the mistake of my life.”

The second “Karate Kid” was shot in Hawaii, and I must have been tired and having an off day. Jerry came over and said, “I saw the stuff yesterday. You’re half in and half out.” He then waited a second and said. “If you give me half, I pay you half,” he threatened, jokingly.

Jerry was the last of a dying breed in Hollywood — the legendary mogul who always had the best table at a restaurant. He name-dropped with the best of them, but you couldn’t help but love the guy. He was a man of his word with loyalty and heart. He had a big roar, and yet I was never intimidated by him. I enjoyed his energy and his brash confidence. I did a good imitation of him way back, and he always laughed at my version of him. Like any actor growing up, you want to be taken seriously and become the next Marlon Brando, and so at first I hated the title “The Karate Kid.” It sounded like an after-school special to me, and would rag him about it. He’d say, “It’s a terrible title, but because of that, it’s a great title.”

Jerry taught me a lot about Hollywood. He told me about how in this business, you make one for them and one for you (or was it two for them and one for you?). He said to me once, “I saw the biggest piece of shit I ever saw in my life. It’s called ‘Grease.’ I wish I produced it.” He understood and had a knack for projects that were “commercial.” He had a great eye for talent and was unrelenting in his passion as a producer. When Jerry believed in it, Jerry got it done. Attaching the right filmmakers to the right material was also an instinctual talent of his, from Robert Altman on “Nashville” to John G. Avildsen on “The Karate Kid” to Steven Soderbergh on the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise.

Through the years, Jerry always stayed in touch with me. He’d call me up and say—“Are you making money? Are they paying you for that?” The morning after I premiered on “Dancing With the Stars,” the first call I got was from Jerry: “You’re a smash! If I’d known, I would have done a dancing picture with you.” A few weeks later, I got ripped apart by the judges, and he called to say, “F— them. The word on the street is that you’re great, people love you, they will always love you.” I couldn’t get past this image of Jerry Weintraub sitting on his couch on a Monday night, watching “Dancing With the Stars,” and rooting for his kid.

Even though we spoke a bunch on the phone, the last time I saw Jerry was at the premiere of “The Karate Kid” remake in 2010. He had the studio fly me and my son Daniel in to Los Angeles to see the movie. We were talking after the screening, and he reintroduced me to his wife Jane. “Remember, this guy?” he told her. “He bought you a couple of houses.” I laughed out loud and shook my head. I’m not sure if he even said my name or not, but he gave me a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, “I love you.” Then he called the photographers over to grab some pictures. He wanted to make sure my son got in the shot: one big happy family. That was Jerry being Jerry. At that moment, the kid who bought him a couple of houses, he loved like a son. Jerry Weintraub was one of a kind. He will be missed, but his personality will live with me forever.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

  • Bull

    Annie Silverstein's 'Bull' Takes Top Awards, Robert Pattinson Starrer 'The Lighthouse' Wins Jury Prize at Deauville

    Annie Silverstein’s feature debut “Bull” swept three awards at the 45th Deauville American Film Festival, including the Grand Prize, the Revelation Prize for best first film and the Critics’ Prize. “Bull,” a portrait of a rebellious teenage girl from South Texas, world premiered at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard and marks Silverstein’s follow up to her [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content