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May 30 2010

Jerry Weintraub: The Greatest Showman on Earth!

Fun, fun, fun.  Great fun. Jerry Weintraub's just-published autobiography When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead is hugely entertaining.  The big bonus is that the self-made, Brooklyn-born, Bronx-raised, Jerry Weintraub also teaches us artists and entrepreneurs some essential life lessons.

Jerry Weintraub has represented, promoted, or worked with hundreds of singers, bands, actors, directors, and writers over the last five decades.  The long, long list of the singers and bands he has promoted includes Bob Dylan, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Aerosmith, and Led Zeppelin

Oh yeah, he also produced 22 films including the Ocean's Trilogy (Ocean's Eleven/Ocean's Twelve/Ocean's Thirteen) that has grossed more than 1.1 billion dollars.

The Jerry Weintraub and Elvis Presley Story:

In 1962, at age 25, Jerry Weintraub decided that he wanted to take Elvis Presley, then the biggest star in the world, on tour across America.  He called Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, every day for months until the Colonel finally gave Weintraub the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Colonel:  "Do you still want to take my boy [Elvis Presley] on the road?"

Weintraub:  "Yes, Colonel."

The Colonel:  "Well, I'll be at the roulette table at the Hilton International Hotel in Vegas tomorrow at nine a.m.  You meet me there with a check for one million dollars, and he's yours."

First of all, one million dollars was a helluva lot of money in 1962.  More than 26-year-old Jerry Weintraub had ever seen in his life.  But Weintraub managed to raise a million dollars in one day.

Weintraub then meets Elvis and Elvis says to Weintraub "There is only one thing I ask when we're on the road: Please make sure, when I perform, that every seat is filled.  And please make sure my fans are in the front rows - not the big shots."

The inexperienced Weintraub books the first Elvis concert in Miami on the Fourth of July.  According to Weintraub "[Miami] is a swamp.  It's five million degrees and humid as hell.  No one is there, and no one should be."

5,000 seats were unsold for the next day's matinee.

After a hellishly sleepless night, Weintraub goes to the local jailhouse and bribes the sheriff to get dozens of prisoners in orange jumpsuits to unscrew 5,000 seats at the convention center where Elvis would be playing, carry them out to the parking lot, and cover them with a blue tarp.

Elvis sang the matinee.  It was great.  Not an empty seat in the house.

As Elvis rested between shows, the prisoners went back to work, tore away the blue tarp, carried 5,000 seats back into the arena, and screwed them back into the floor. 

Elvis's second show that day was even better.  Back at the Fontainbleu Hotel Elvis said to Weintraub, "You know, Jerry, it's amazing.  The crowd was good in the afternoon, but it's always so much better at night."

The "blue tarp" is an essential life lesson.  All the glory goes to those few who continue to innovate and improvise long after almost everyone else would have given up. 

Jerry Weintraub on getting what you want out of life:

"Persist, push, hang on, keep going, never give up.  When the man says no, pretend you can't hear him.  Look confused, stammer, say, 'Huh?'  Persistence - it's a cliche, but it happens to work.  The person who makes it is the person who keeps on going after everyone else has quit.  This is more important than intelligence, pedigree, even connections.  Be dogged!  Keep hitting that door until you bust it down!  I have accomplished almost nothing on the first, second or even third try - the breakthrough usually comes late, when everyone else has left the field."

I hope you're enjoying the holiday weekend!

Jim Caruso