Hollywood's Jerry Weintraub can take a joke, and one of the joys of His Way, an HBO documentary about the famed producer/promoter to air tonight is the amused testimony of family and friends -- even George and Barbara Bush -- about this Bronx boy's rise from Depression era Brooklyn to a Beverly Hills mansion, where he now resides with his long time companion Susie Ekins while still lovingly married to Jane Morgan.
Working on the recent Oceans movies, George Clooney impersonated Weintraub on the phone with room service, sending mountains of food to his hotel room at 5 A.M. following a late night shoot. The actor also smacked Weintraub's rump during a massage, and, according to co-star Julia Roberts, filled his shoes with M&M's. For a man who is doing it "his way," that's a lot to suck up, but Jerry Weintraub, the man who revived the careers of Elvis and Sinatra, who produced Robert Altman's Nashville and Barry Levinson's Diner, has a passion for people. He's a "character," a "rare bird," says Barbara Bush with comic timing. And, no one who ever met him forgot the experience.
When his father, a jewelry salesman and important influence, came to visit and saw the outsized lifestyle: swimming pool and tennis courts, the champagne and caviar, he was convinced his son was in the mob. But as the film reveals with each Bronx boy-makes-good anecdote, Jerry Weintraub made it the old fashioned American way: persistence, chutzpah, a knack for making money, and luck.
As his brother, Melvyn Douglas Weintraub -- named after the movie star -- puts it, "He's going to sell you something, you are going to buy it, and you will like it."
On the eve of the documentary's second "Bar Mitzvah," a swell party at Porterhouse hosted by Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter and attended by a who's who in media, I caught up with him to talk about the fabulous trajectory of his life.
RW: Your book, When I Stop Talking You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man, is a bestseller. Were you interested in doing a book and movie about yourself?
JW: I didn't want to do a book. Rich Cohen interviewed me for Vanity Fair. He "got" me right away and he wanted to do the book. He got 7 offers. The movie followed.
RW: Are you more Brooklyn or more Bronx?
JW: Brooklyn is more romantic out in the world, so I say that. I was more Bronx because that's where my family lived. But my grandmother lived in Williamsburg, and the whole family congregated at her house: aunts, uncles, cousins. Chickens ran free in the back yard. We killed and cooked them.
Both cultures fed my personality. I grew up at the beginning of the war and women didn't go out and work. They stayed home to take care of the children. A warm familial atmosphere was an important part of my life. I was born in 1937. I am 73 now. And that's why I have such a cadre of friends and people around me. I have that familial side of me.
RW: You had a "Jewish mother," but the way you describe her she was certainly not like Philip Roth's devouring, oppressive New Jersey mom.
JW: I was extremely lucky. I have warm feelings for my mother. My mother and my father were extraordinary. A lot of people don't have that.
My mother read to me every night. My mother was afraid of everything in the world, everything she couldn't control. She took care of the money; my father gave her the money and she gave everyone an allowance. She loved to read and loved movies. She didn't want to travel so she experienced everything through books and films. And that's how she went to Hawaii and South Africa, in foreign films.
RW: Your life can be read as a study in success. What is your secret?
JW: I am persistent about everything I believe in. If there's a film I want to do, a record, a Broadway show -- I do it. Everybody can hate it but I will still do it. I am fearless that way.
Early in my career, Lou Wasserman knew people and as a businessman, he thought he could make a lot of money with me. But I made it for myself.
RW: You also know failure. What did you learn from that?
JW: By the '80's I was too rich and started a company. I learned not to do it again, and made more money after that failure. I learned not be somebody I wasn't. I can do anything-run companies--but that doesn't mean I should do that. I need to enjoy what I do. I enjoy making movies.
RW: Ellen Barkin thinks you rescued her. Did you?
JW: I didn't rescue her because she is a great artist, a great talent. I gave her another opportunity to rescue herself. I love her.
We go way back to Diner. I didn't call her up to say I am going to do you a favor because you're in trouble. I don't do that to people.
She thought she was in trouble but she wasn't because nobody can take her talent away. Talented people have to do what they do. Someone can criticize but you do what you do. Content is king. Ellen is a great actress. I was just giving her the opportunity to do that again at a time when things weren't so good for her. I knew that they weren't and I could have given the part to a lot of girls, but she was great in Oceans Thirteen.
RW: A hilarious bit in the documentary is everyone weighing in on your unusual family life, married to Jane and living with Susie. Is everyone still happy with that arrangement?
JW: It's very simple. I married Jane 50 years ago. I love her as much now as I loved her then. We grew apart at a certain time. We just lived too long.
This monogamous thing that people try to do, to live together for 70 or 80 years, it just doesn't work. When Jane and I started to pull apart I went to her. She could have had a divorce and gotten lots and lots of money. She didn't want that. She didn't want me to mess up my estate. She loves Susie and Susie loves her.
RW: What are your plans?
JW: I have several projects including a film about Liberace with a script by Richard LaGravanese to come out a year from now. He's a great screenwriter. I love him.
This post also appears on Gossip Central.