‘Larger Than Life’ Manager and Producer Jerry Weintraub Remembered at Grammy Museum Event

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“He was the progenitor. Jerry did it first. Then came David Geffen and Irving Azoff.”

Jerry Weintraub, who was a major force in the entertainment industry for 45 years until his death in 2015, was remembered in a panel discussion at the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live on Thursday night (Aug. 15). The panelists kept going back to the phrase "larger than life" to describe Weintraub, who achieved great success as a concert promoter, artist manager and film and television producer.

The panel discussion, held in the Clive Davis Theater, coincided with the opening of an exhibit of Weintraub memorabilia at the museum. The exhibit, titled Jerry Weintraub Presents…, is scheduled to run through early December.

Weintraub's son, Michael Weintraub, gave much of the credit for Weintraub's success to his second wife, Jane. "Jane saw what he could be. She said, 'You're going to walk with kings and presidents.'"

Weintraub did just that. In 1970, he promoted the first national concert tour by the King, Elvis Presley. He also worked with such major artists as John Denver, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan. And he was a friend of two U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Michael Weintraub noted that his dad was a loyal friend, though he added, "You never wanted to be his enemy. You wanted him in a foxhole next to you, not shooting at you."

Here are other reasons panelists gave for Weintraub's great success.

He was an innovator. John Meglen, president and co-CEO, Concerts West, noted, "He started the model of national touring. What Jerry did was he looked at artists and said 'Why can't we go out and be the promoters.' We had arenas as partners. We'd cut out the promoters and do it city after city."

He had a healthy ego. Bob Finkelstein, former president of Management 3 and Concerts West and co-chairman of Frank Sinatra Enterprises, remembered the posters for the 1982 film Diner. "His name was as prominent as anything in the ad, more so than Barry Levinson." (Finkelstein's recollection is accurate: The poster reads "A Jerry Weintraub Production" above the title, followed by the names of the six principal actors, executive producer Mark Johnson, another mention of Weintraub as producer and only then a nod to the film's writer and director, Levinson.)

He believed in good business practices. Meglen said that Weintraub's mottos were "never assume anything" and "take care of business." He said that Weintraub also believed in transparency when it came to tour accounting, which was not the norm at the time. 

He tried to help his artists. Finkelstein remembered that Weintraub let R&B star Rick James stay at his house in Beverly Hills in a bid—ultimately unsuccessful—to help the addicted star get clean.

Michael Weintraub discussed his dad's painful split with Denver, whom he managed from 1970 to 1982. "They were very close. They were once executors of each other's estates; best friends. It was like a family feud."

The discussion was moderated by music industry analyst and critic, Bob Lefsetz, who noted, "He was the progenitor. Jerry did it first. Then came David Geffen and Irving Azoff."

The panel also included female concert industry pioneer Claire Rothman (former general manager and vice president of the Forum) and Peter Jackson (one-time tour manager for the Moody Blues and Eric Clapton).

The memorabilia on display includes artifacts associated with the many legendary stars that Weintraub represented. It also includes one act you might not expect—Zager & Evans. It turns out Weintraub managed the one-hit-wonders who topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1969 with "In the Year 2525."

Weintraub won three Emmys for producing or executive producing An Evening With John Denver for ABC (1975); Behind the Candelabra, a TV movie about Liberace, for HBO (2013); and Years of Living Dangerously, a documentary about global warming, for Showtime (2014).

In 2011, Weintraub wrote (with Rich Cohen) a memoir, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man. Weintraub, who died in July 2015 at age 77, has indeed stopped talking, but they're still talking about him. And that's almost as good.