'Ocean's Eleven' Producer Can't 'Stop Talking'

Truth is often more outrageous than fiction, especially when you consider Jerry Weintraub's outrageous fortune. As a young man, he booked nationwide tours for Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. In the process, he reinvented their careers and changed the business of live music. Host Liane Hansen speaks to film producer Jerry Weintraub about his new memoir, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Jerry Weintraub is in our New York studio and I want to start our interview with this question. Mr. Weintraub, are you ready?

Mr. JERRY WEINTRAUB (Movie producer): I am. But please call me Jerry.

HANSEN: Thank you. I will. What occupation do you put on your tax return?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Concierge.

HANSEN: Seriously.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINTRAUB: I put producer on my tax return.

HANSEN: Do you? I wondered, 'cause it could be: entrepreneur, impresario, agent, manager, Jack of all trades.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Yeah. Not agent. That was an awfully long time ago.

HANSEN: Right.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Manager was also an awfully long time ago. It could be entrepreneur. But in all seriousness, I really should put concierge on there because my first 50 emails every morning are favors...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINTRAUB: ... and that I do for people all over the world.

HANSEN: Youve written your memoir, "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man." I'd like to do a little timeline with you.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Sure.

HANSEN: Let's start with George Clooney. I mean, you were the one that resurrected the "Ocean's Eleven" franchise. What was worth remaking at that time with him and Brad Pitt and the rest of that amazing cast?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Well, firstly, I'm 72 years old, so I was around for the first "Ocean's Eleven," and I saw Sinatra and Dean Martin and the Rat Pack make "Ocean's Eleven." And I never thought the film was great and I always had it in the back of my head to remake it someday. And I got the rights and at the point in my career - about 10, 12 years ago, 13 years ago - I decided to get a script and remake it.

HANSEN: Were you convinced of its success?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Was I convinced before I got the cast? No. But when I got the cast, I was.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: And when I got the script, I was. And when I got Steven Soderbergh to direct it, I certainly was.

HANSEN: Mr. Sinatra insisted that you call him Francis.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Yes.

HANSEN: What did you do for him?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: I promoted all of his shows. I brought him out of retirement, produced all of his concerts, as well as his television shows.

HANSEN: Now, he had many retirements.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Yes, he liked to retire. But he liked working. He loved working and he never really wanted to leave the stage. And I was fortunate enough at that time in my life to be working with Elvis Presley, and I got a phone call from Sinatra - Mr. Sinatra - Francis, who said to me, I'd like to have a meeting with you. And I said, fine, come over to the office. And he said no, no, no, no, no. You come over to the house. I said fine. Where is it? He said, it's in Palm Springs. I said, but I'm in Beverly Hills. He said, well, just go out to Santa Monica Airport, my pilots will bring you down to Palm Springs.

HANSEN: Had he played Carnegie Hall before you got that room for him?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: No. I brought him to Carnegie Hall. That was the first concert coming back. I wanted to take him to arenas, as I had done with Elvis. But I had to start him some place that was a palace for music, which Carnegie Hall is, and I took him to Carnegie Hall. And he loved Carnegie Hall. It was wonderful.

HANSEN: Concert promotion was one of those a-ha ideas youve had throughout your career.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: You had a conversation with Colonel Tom Parker, who was Elvis's old manager at the time, and Elvis was making movies. He'd stop touring. You changed his mind. How did you do it?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: I'm spiritual. I'm not a religious man. I believe in God. And I believe that every time I've had a change in my life, and I've changed just about every 10 years, I've changed my career and my life and I go on. I go from Broadway to music, to movies to et cetera, et cetera. And I woke up one night at three in the morning - and I keep a pad and pencil next to my bedside - I wrote down, Jerry Weintraub presents Elvis at Madison Square Garden.

Now, I had never presented anything at Madison Square Garden but I believed that I could it done. And I got Colonel Parker on the phone and I called him every day for one year. And every day we talked and talked and talked. And I asked and I asked and I asked. And he said no, and he said no, and he said no.

And finally, after one year, he said to me, would you still like to have Elvis? And I said, yes. He said, meet me in Las Vegas tomorrow and bring one million dollars.

HANSEN: Hmm. But in exchange, Colonel Parker said Elvis doesnt like to play to an empty room.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: It was Elvis who requested - the only two requests he ever made of me was number one: he wanted every seat full when he sang. Secondly, the first 20 rows he wanted me to assure him were going to be for his fans, because it gave him the energy to work.

The first show, I put him in Florida on July 4th and very few people are in Miami Beach on July 4th. I dont know if youve ever been to Miami Beach in July but it's quite humid.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: And I took the Convention Center. And they had told me that the evening show was sold out. That was 10,000 seats. They said to me, would you like to do a matinee? And I said, yes I would. And I went to the Colonel and I said, can we ask Elvis about a matinee? He said sure, go on and ask him. And I went and I said to Elvis, would you like to do a matinee in Miami? He said sure.

So I put the matinee on sale. When I got to Florida and went to the arena, the ticket booth had two fellows in it. And I went in and there were thousands of tickets in the racks behind the booth. And I said to him, what are these tickets for? He said, these are seats that haven't been sold yet.

About an hour later, the Colonel and Elvis showed up at the building to have a soundcheck. And I went over to the Colonel and I said, Colonel, we have a problem. I said, I have five thousand seats left for the matinee. And he said to me, Son, we dont have a problem. You have a problem.

And I went next door, there was the jail, Miami Beach Jail was next door to the Convention Center - or the Miami Jail. And I met the warden and I made a deal with him and I got the prisoners in the jail to come into the building, take five thousands seats out of the Miami Beach Convention Center, put them in the parking lot and I put a blue tarp over it.

I can see the picture right in front of me right now as we're talking. And Elvis came, he did his show, and every seat was full. And I put the five thousand seats back in the Convention Center for the evening show. So that's what happened.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Innovate and improvise.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Yes.

HANSEN: A useful story from Jerry Weintraub. His new memoir is called "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead." Jerry Weintraub, you say you believe in a higher power.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Yes.

HANSEN: I understand that youre working on a remake of the classic movie "Oh God," to be released in 2011. Is that true?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Yeah. Well, I have a script and I like it a lot. And actually, Whoopi Goldberg asked me if she could play God. And I said that's a heck of a great idea.

HANSEN: Ha.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: And I shook her hand and we're going to start talking about it. We're old friends.

HANSEN: Now, that sounds interesting because she'll be replacing George Burns in the original.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Right.

HANSEN: Yeah. What was it about George Burn's toupee in that movie?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Oh, George had a toupee. And I said to him, George, God wouldnt wear a toupee. He said to me, well, I have to. I'm not going to appear without my hair. I'm just not going to do it. I said, well, how about hats? So if you look at the movie you'll see that George is in a vast array of hats all through the picture.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: I have two questions here.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Yes.

HANSEN: There's a motivation question: Is it fear of failure or desire for greatness?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Desire for greatness.

HANSEN: A-ha.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: I'm not afraid of anything. I'm never afraid of failing. I failed many times. Failure only teaches you how to be successful next time.

HANSEN: The secret to your success: Is it knowing when to move in or move on?

Mr. WEINTRAUB: I think the secret to my success is the people that I associate myself with and work with. I work with the greatest artists and I respect them and they're equals. And I dont treat actors as children. And I really admire directors. And I really admire people who can sit down and write something. So it's just surrounding yourself with the right people.

HANSEN: Had any dreams lately that youve jotted down?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Many. I keep dreaming. I'll never stop dreaming. That'll be sequel: "When I Stop Dreaming, I'll Be Dead."

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Jerry Weintraub, he has a new memoir that he's written with Rich Cohen and it's called "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man." Jerry Weintraub, we have to stop talking now. But...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINTRAUB: I understand.

HANSEN: Jerry Weintraub, thank you so much.

Mr. WEINTRAUB: Thank you.

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