No one who knows the showbiz superagent could doubt for a millisecond the sincerity of those tears welling in Jerry Weintraub's eyes. Some 20 years ago Weintraub was a kid sorting mail at the William Morris Agency in Manhattan. He overheard two MCA executives discussing an opening for a talent agent. He applied for the job and got it. Today Weintraub, 44, is one of the most powerful figures in the entertainment industry. An elegantly dressed impresario of the glittery and the glamorous, he is also Hollywood's Washington connection in the Reagan Administration.
Weintraub knows everyone. As a personal manager he runs an incredible musical stable: John Denver, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, John Davidson, Wayne Newton, the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues and the Carpenters. He has produced more than 50 concerts for Frank Sinatra. His credits as a movie producer include Nashville and Oh, God! As a political kingmaker, he has raised millions for candidates ranging from JFK to George Bush. "Every door in this business is open to me," Weintraub says without exaggeration, "because people know I get things done."
Weintraub in motion—and he is always in motion—is a wonder. His 10-hour days begin on the phone in his chauffeur-driven Rolls en route from his Malibu home to his office in Beverly Hills. His newest projects are a Broadway musical—Weintraub's first—about the life of Jimmy Durante and a sequel to his latest movie, Diner, about a place where college kids hang out. Diner will be released early this year.
Weintraub's determination is legendary. His wife, retired 1950s torch singer Jane Morgan, recalls that in the mid-'60s he called Col. Tom Parker nearly every day for a year, begging to promote Elvis. Finally Parker agreed—but only if Weintraub hand-delivered a $1 million check to the colonel's Las Vegas office the next day. Weintraub did, and Presley became one of his biggest clients. Since then the stars have come to Weintraub. Six years ago Dylan called Jerry up on a Sunday morning and asked him to be his manager. The Carpenters chose him because, Richard Carpenter recalls, "we heard Jerry was somebody who actually molded careers—like Brian Epstein did with the Beatles."
Weintraub's detractors credit his rise to sheer chutzpah, plus the ability to make financial offers no one can refuse. "People like me invest time and money in an unknown act," fumes promoter Jim Rissmiller. "Weintraub comes along and steals them away. I worked with the Bee Gees for seven years, until they did Saturday Night Fever. Then Weintraub offered them the moon to do a national tour."
The son of a traveling gem salesman, Weintraub grew up in a business-conscious household in the Bronx. "My father told me, 'Only two things are important at the end of the week: how much you owe the bank, and how much you have in it.' " After three years in the Air Force, Weintraub enrolled at Manhattan's Neighborhood Playhouse on the Gl Bill. He studied acting in the same group as James Caan and Elizabeth Ashley, but quit when he realized he had more ambition than talent. For a while he worked as a page at NBC, then joined William Morris and MCA.
One of his first clients was his future wife, whose biggest hit was Fascination. For three years, Jane says, "neither of us thought of the other in a romantic way. Then one night Jerry called and asked if he could come over. We started talking. I said to myself, 'You're really in love with this guy.' It was like a thunderbolt."
They married in 1965; it was her third trip to the altar, his second. Now Jane devotes herself to caring for the couple's three adopted daughters, Julie Caroline, 7, Jamie Cee, 4, and Jody Christine, 17 months. (Michael, 19, Weintraub's son by his previous marriage, is a student at Berkeley.) The Weintraubs' life-style befits the family of a mogul. Blue Heaven, their Malibu estate, boasts tennis courts, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a 16-room house painted robin's-egg blue. They also own homes in Maine (where friends George and Barbara Bush live nearby), Beverly Hills, Palm Springs and New York.
Weintraub runs four miles a day and rides his Tennessee walker, Starwoods Diamond, a birthday gift last year from John Denver. He also exercises his social conscience by putting on political fund raisers for both Democrats and Republicans, which are considered Hollywood's most opulent. "I don't get anything out of it," he says. "I have everything I want in my life. I want to help those who don't." One gala for California Republican Mike Curb's gubernatorial bid was straight out of The Last Tycoon. Guests stepped from their limos and strolled down a red carpet to the Weintraubs' home. On the lawn a 200-member marching band played the theme from Fame. Says Weintraub: "Anybody in this country can succeed if they try."
"I love going to the White House," Jerry Weintraub says. "I get tears in my eyes every time I walk into the Oval Office. It's awesome. You think, 'How many people in the world get a chance to shake hands with the President and Vice-President and talk to them?' Listen, I cry when I hear Hail to the Chief."