Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Film Producer Jerry Weintraub Plays Not My Job

Jerry Weintraub

Jerry Weintraub's resume reads a little like a history of the 20th century; he helped manage Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, John Denver and Led Zeppelin. He produced the movies Nashville, The Karate Kid and the Oceans 11 series with George Clooney. Oh ... and he was best friends with President George H.W. Bush. Weintraub shares stories from his personal and professional life in a new memoir, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead.

Jerry has pretty much spent his career flying about on private jets with celebrities, so we've asked him to play a game called "Man, I hate my job." Three questions about terrible jobs.

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PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now, the game where we ask people who have done a lot to do one more thing. Jerry Weintraub's resume reads like a history of the late 20th century. He helped manage Elvis, Sinatra, Bob Dylan, John Denver and Led Zeppelin. He produced the movies "Nashville," "The Karate Kid," the "Ocean's Eleven" series with George Clooney. And along the way, he was best friends with President George H.W. Bush and Armand Hammer.

He's written up a bunch of his stories into a new memoir. We hope we can get him to share the more embarrassing ones with us. Jerry Weintraub, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MR: Thank you.

SAGAL: Do you ever look back on your own life and think, come on, that didn't happen?

MR: Yes, all the time. I look back and I'm very, very tired.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Do you ever...

MR: I'm 72 years old; I feel 92 when I read the book.

SAGAL: You fit in a lot.

MR: Yeah.

SAGAL: One of the stories I loved is the story about your first trip. Because you grew up in New York; your father was a successful salesman of jewelry.

MR: Yes.

SAGAL: And he took you all out to L.A. to see the glamorous - this must have been in the 1940s, right, when you made the trip?

MR: Yeah, 1947.

SAGAL: Right. And you had this encounter with stardom that made you think that you could be one of them someday.

MR: Right. I walked around with my sixth grade autograph book - when I graduated from the sixth grade at P.S. 70 in the Bronx - and I got autographs all over Beverly Hills: Betty Grable and Cesar Romero and Vic Damone, and so on and so forth. It was a fantastic place.

SAGAL: And you ran into Betty Grable on the studio lot, right?

MR: I did. She was sitting in the commissary at 20th Century Fox. And she had those beautiful legs up on the table, and then she belched.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MR: And it killed it for me.

SAGAL: It killed it? What do you mean?

MR: And I told her that, years- years later when we became friends. I said, you know, you ruined my life. You belched after lunch, and you didn't say excuse me. It killed me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: One of the things that I note in your stories about your own career is time and time again, you put yourself confidently into situations that you were totally unqualified to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MR: Thanks.

SAGAL: No, really. I mean, you tell these stories on yourself - like the story of how you ended up managing Elvis Presley on tour.

MR: Yes.

SAGAL: You said you woke up one day and said, I'm going to take Elvis Presley on tour. You didn't know anybody.

MR: Right.

SAGAL: You didn't know Elvis Presley.

MR: Right.

SAGAL: You said, I'm going to do this.

MR: It just happened because I believed it was going to happen. And it took me a year to get him. And I had to raise a million dollars, and I did. And we had a very, very long run together. I did every show he ever did, and we had a wonderful time.

SAGAL: You do have this ability - again, as you describe in your book, to charm people into doing what was to your mutual benefit. Is there a trick, Jerry? I mean, you know, here we are, we're all trying to convince people of things, and you were so good at it as a salesman of yourself and your own skills. Is there a trick that you can teach us?

MR: Well, to be serious for a moment, what worked for me for the last 52 years in show business was the fact that I never heard the word no. The word no, to me, was always an opportunity to make people say yes.

SAGAL: So if I said no to you right now, you wouldn't actually hear it? It'd be like a...

MR: No, I'd hang up.

SAGAL: OK.

MR: And it would be over, the show would be over.

SAGAL: It'd be over. Done. It'd be over. Well, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that.

MR: I'm kidding.

MR: Jerry, I wanted to ask a question. Now, I can understand, you know, representing Elvis and also Led Zeppelin. But John Denver is such a different direction. How does that...

MR: Yeah, John Denver was a great artist. He's the only artist that ever fired me. But other than that, he was a great friend of mine and a great guy. And luckily, we ended up friends. It was fine. You know, when he fired me, I was left with a terrible list of artists, you know: Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Moody Blues, etc., etc.

MR: That must have been a dark period, Jerry.

MR: It was a very dark period.

SAGAL: In the book, you tell the story of a prior time that John Denver tried to fire you.

MR: Yes. Well, he was in Europe, and he was on tour. And everything was wrong. He hated everything. He hated the venues. He hated - the airplanes were no good. The sound systems were no good. Everything was no good. And he said to me, you know, I'm going to fire you; everything is wrong here. I said, yeah, I know, I know.

I: the hotels, the sound system, the venues, da, da, da, da. And he said, it's going to be OK now? I said, yes, I'm putting other people in. Great.

And that evening, Denver and I went out to have something to eat. At dinner, I said to him, John, you know, I feel really terrible about firing Ferguson. He said, why? I said, because it's not like you and it's not like me. And John Denver said to me, I agree with you; it's not like us. What can we do to help the guy? It's really not like me. I got to help him. I said, I'll put him in another area in the company. He'll be fine. We'll take good care of him. He said, that's great, I feel so much better. Of course, there never was a Ferguson.

MR: Ferguson.

SAGAL: Right.

MR: Whoa.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: You tell a similar story about dealing with Led Zeppelin at one point, when they felt their concert wasn't loud enough.

MR: Yeah. When I first - the first show I did with Zeppelin, it was in New York. Jimmy Page was playing "Stairway to Heaven" and when they came off the stage, they called. He wanted to see me right away. And I went backstage and I walked in to Jimmy Page and Jimmy Page said to me, I can't hear myself playing "Stairway to Heaven." The sound system stinks. And I said, what are you talking about? It's a great sound system. He said, Jerry, there's not enough sound. So I said, OK, I'll fix it for tomorrow night. I'll fix it. I sent my people out, and I got every box in New York I could find. I painted them all black.

MR: Oh, my god.

MR: They went up to the ceiling all around the stage. They weren't connected to anything. But they were up on the stage. And Jimmy came out, he played "Stairway to Heaven," and he came off the stage and he said to me, that's sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So now that you've published these stories in a book, are you afraid that some of these people are going to find out and get mad at you for fooling them back when?

MR: I don't know if he'll get mad at me or not, it's OK.

MR: You could just blame Ferguson.

MR: OK.

SAGAL: Jerry Weintraub, we've asked you here to play a game we're calling...

CARL KASELL, Host:

"Man, I Hate My Job."

SAGAL: Carl speaks not for himself, but for the millions of people, Jerry Weintraub, who are not like you.

MR: Right.

SAGAL: You've spent your career flying about on private jets with celebrities. We thought we'd ask you three questions about terrible jobs.

MR: OK.

SAGAL: Get two of these questions right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners: Carl's voice on their home answering machine. So Carl, who is impresario Jerry Weintraub playing for?

KASELL: Jerry is playing for Laura Terech of Phoenix, Arizona.

SAGAL: Let's begin with a scientist at Purdue University in Indiana. His name is Andrew Robinson. And once, for scientific purposes, he had to work as a what? Was it A, as a hermit; B, as a bean counter; or C, as a couch potato?

MR: B, as a bean counter.

SAGAL: You're going to go for bean counter? You're right, he had to count beans.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

MR: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: He was studying different reproductive rates of soybean plants. So every day, for months, he had to count the beans - day after day after day - to see which plant had more beans.

MR: Wow.

SAGAL: Very good, very good.

MR: OK.

SAGAL: All right. Next question, six lucky people were recently hired by the European Space Agency to do what? A, to pretend to be monkeys so the real monkeys, the test animals, wouldn't get lonely; B, see how close they could stand to a rocket firing without being burned; or C, to get locked inside a fake spaceship for a year and a half?

MR: I would say A, the monkeys.

SAGAL: You're going to say to pretend to be monkeys.

MR: Yes.

SAGAL: Just to keep the real monkeys company?

MR: Yes.

SAGAL: That would be a good job. But no, the answer was C. To see if people can survive a trip to Mars, six people have agreed to be locked inside this big, mocked-up spaceship.

MR: Right.

SAGAL: And by the way, if they do this, they don't then get to go Mars. They just get to do this. All right, this is exciting.

MR: Oh, that's a great job.

SAGAL: As a showman, Jerry, you know, you always want to keep it exciting to the climax. That's what we have done.

MR: Right.

SAGAL: If you get this last question right, you win it all.

MR: Right.

SAGAL: Keith Jackson of Britain has one of the most dull jobs in the world. What does Keith Jackson do for a living? A, he watches paint dry; B, he stares at the ceiling; or C, he twiddles his thumbs?

MR: Twiddles his thumbs.

SAGAL: Twiddles his thumbs. You think that there'd be somebody who would pay you to twiddle your thumbs?

MR: Obviously, if they'd stand around in a space station for a year and a half.

SAGAL: He's not in the space station.

MR: Oh that's all right; I still think he'd twiddle his thumbs.

SAGAL: You think that's the one. That's your final choice?

MR: Final choice.

SAGAL: Final choice.

MR: Final choice.

SAGAL: I'm afraid the answer was, he watches paint dry.

MR: Wow.

SAGAL: As previously mentioned some years ago on this very show, he works as a technician at a paint company, monitoring how quickly it takes for their products to dry. I'm sorry. You know, I'm wondering...

MR: Can't they just like, use a camera? I mean, that's crazy.

SAGAL: Well, you know, you have to go over, and you have to touch it to see if it's sticky, apparently. Could you try to convince me that you were right by picking the other answer?

MR: I think he could, actually.

MR: I was right. I was right.

SAGAL: You were right?

MR: I still - I'm twiddling my thumbs now.

SAGAL: And making good money, darn it. Carl, how did Jerry Weintraub do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Jerry needed at least two correct answers to win for Laura Terech of Phoenix, Arizona, but sadly, he had just one correct answer.

SAGAL: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Oh, well. But Jerry...

MR: What did she lose?

SAGAL: What did she lose? She lost the chance to have Carl's voice on her home answering machine.

MR: Oh, well, gosh, there must be a way I can work that out with Carl.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well, wait a minute...

MR: I bet you could.

SAGAL: Here's our chance. Here's our chance to learn from the master. Carl is standing right here. He's listening. Jerry, what have you got to offer him?

KASELL: Let's talk, Jerry.

SAGAL: Jerry Weintraub is an award-winning producer, a Hollywood bigwig and the author of the new book, "When I Stop Talking, You Will Know I'm Dead." And it is a charming and funny book, filled with great stories about amazing people. Jerry Weintraub, thank you so much for joining us today. What a pleasure to talk to you.

MR: Thank you, I had a ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

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Books Featured In This Story

When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead

Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man

by Jerry Weintraub and Rich Cohen

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