“I’ve never been afraid to fail.” Jerry Weintraub
If you’re going to experience a book based on an “old man’s” stories of his life, you might as well hear them in the voice of the man himself, Jerry Weintraub. Weintraub, now 72, has worked with the biggest of the big in the music and movie businesses. Yes, everyone from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan – who wrote the introductory poem – and Led Zeppelin in music; Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Gene Hackman (with whom he attended acting school) in film.
Weintraub was also the Zelig-like figure who befriended the biggest figures in politics including a young John F. Kennedy, CIA Director George Herbert Walker Bush, and a peanut farmer by the name of Jimmy Carter.
I first attempted to read the standard book version of Talking, but something was missing. The stories were entertaining but I couldn’t get a feel for the narrator, the person telling the stories. This all changed when I began to listen to the audio book. Initially, Weintraub sounds every year of his age and I began to wonder if a young actor should have been hired to voice the tales. But within just a few minutes one becomes mesmerized by his voice.
Weintraub likes to say that there are differences between a person’s appearance and his/her behaviors and true personality; but it takes some time to learn about the individual’s soul. The same is true here… Only by spending time with the man do you get past his appearance as one of “the suits” in New York City and Hollywood/Los Angeles. Eventually you get to the man and his soul – what makes him tick, what really drives him, and what he thinks life – success – is really about.
Jerry Weintraub takes the listener on a journey which begins with him as a poor Jewish kid on the streets of Brooklyn. In his early twenties he becomes the most ambitious young man working in the mail room at the famed William Morris Agency in Manhattan. After a couple of very quick promotions, he quits William Morris – now who would do that? – as he has the idea of taking Elvis on his first nationwide concert tour. In order to do this he needs to come up with a cool $1 million deposit to hand to Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager. How does he come up with the money? This is just one of the many great, highly entertaining, stories told in this anthology of true tales.
“While we’re here, we may as well smile.” Armand Hammer
It comes as a surprise that the most fascinating stories are about the secondary figures, such as John Denver, George Burns, Dean Martin, Dorothy Hamill (who married Dean Paul “Dino” Martin), Colonel Parker (who was originally a carnival barker), and Armand Hammer. But Weintraub saves the very best for last, when this very mature man touches upon spirituality, religion, mortality and family. By his own admission, Weintraub has never been religious and yet he has come to work closely with Catholic charities and Jewish congregations. It is all very personal, as he explains in Talking and some of the connections have to be heard to be believed. (Yes, real life is so much stranger than fiction.)
It is when he talks of the death of his parents that we come to feel the emotional soul of Mr. Weintraub. His voice breaking, he tells us that “everything changes in life when you lose your parents.” Materialism takes a sudden back seat to memories, to one’s basic values as one comes to realize that we’re all renters in this place.
Jerry Weintraub, we come to know, was proud of his success but so much more so because he could share it with his parents – such as with his skeptical father who came to doubt that he “really knew” President Carter and the First Lady until the Weintraubs were invited to a State Dinner at the White House. (Weintraub’s father once wondered aloud if his son had made millions as a Jewish member of the Mafia.)
By the end of Talking, you’ll come to feel that Jerry Weintraub is a very nice man, one you’d be happy to invite to one of those special “10 people you would like to have dinner with” events.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.