When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man is the perfect title for this memoir from Jerry Weintraub written with Rich Cohen. It reads like Jerry is talking to you. My guess is that is exactly how the book was written. Rob Cohen profiled Jerry for Vanity Fair in 2008 and it would follow that this book expanded on that piece. There are just too many stories to fit in a magazine article.
From his beginnings in the Bronx, (he was born in Brooklyn, likes to claim he’s from there, but moved to the Bronx at a very early age. The book cover is a photograph of him on the Brooklyn Bridge) he joins the military, works in a men’s clothing store in Fairbanks, Alaska and takes acting classes in New York. Part of his instructions included a dance class taught by Martha Graham. James Caan was in the class with him. Jerry wouldn’t put on the tights and left the class. He realized he wasn’t an actor or a dancer. He became an NBC page, worked for a few weeks in the mailroom at The William Morris Agency, where all big careers seems to have started and that’s the beginning of his entertainment career. When he started his own agency he was managing the Four Seasons, Kimo Lee a sword dancer and acrobats. Some of his best stories revolve around putting a show together, such as the one in Las Vegas called a Night in Hawaii.
At age 26 he convinced Elvis Presley’s manager Col Tom Parker to let him promote an Elvis tour. In three weeks, he was a millionaire. In 1968, Frank Sinatra calls him directly. He was impressed with what he did with Elvis and wanted Jerry to do the same for him.
His first film venture is Robert Altman’s Nashville. The two things that come to my mind when I hear Jerry’s name are Concerts West or Jerry Weintraub Presents, which is how he promoted his concerts. The other is the movie Diner. It’s one of my top 5 favorite movies. In this book, he recounts talking to Barry Levinson who wrote the screenplay. Every studio turned down Barry to produce the film. Jerry loved the script and said let’s make it. Barry explained that no one wanted it. This does not deter Jerry. Barry says ok, but I have to direct it. Jerry perseveres and the movie is made. He says that casting was critical to the film being a hit and Diner launched many successful careers.
There are two anecdotes in the book, that I think sum up why Jerry is so successful.
- John Denver needed a new manager around 1970. He had decided to go solo and had released one or two solo recordings to no notice. John was making $70 a show (Jerry considered that nothing. I know musicians who would love to be making that now!) performing at clubs in Greenwich Village. Someone suggested Jerry see him. There was a small audience for the show Jerry attended. “He made a connection immediately. It was one of those moments you dream about as a manager. Spotting the kid who will become a star, who is a star already, even if the world does not know it yet.” Jerry made sure the world knew who John Denver was.
- “Work with the best people. If you have the best writers, actors, distributor and fail, there is even something noble in it; but it you fail with garbage, then you are left with nothing to hang your spirits on.” He was referring to why he made Nashville. He continued, “Besides, life is too short to be spent in the company of morons.”