Jerry Weintraub: How I Snookered Elvis Presley, Saved Sinatra

The subject of a new documentary, Weintraub gives the inside story of being “a high-priced concierge’

For nearly two decades, Jerry Weintraub was one of the biggest powers in management. He managed Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and John Denver. In the '80s he produced such hits as “Nashville,” “Diner” and “The Karate Kid.” Most recently he handled the "Ocean’s Eleven" franchise.

The subject of “His Way,” the new HBO documentary available Tuesday on DVD, Weintraub sat down to talk to us about Elvis, Frank and candy in his pants.

One of your early triumphs was managing Elvis Presley’s tours. On one of the first concert dates, you narrowly avoided a complete disaster in Miami.
When I first met Elvis he said, “Don’t ever put me in a show that’s not sold out.” When I got to the first show and there were 5,000 seats left in a10,000-seat arena for the matinee. The only thing I could figure out was to take the seats out. He asked me when he came into the show, “How we doing?” I said, “Every seat is full.” I didn’t say, “Sold out,” I said, “Every seat is full.”

In the movie, you talk about revitalizing Sinatra’s career in the '70s with “The Main Event.”
He was very, very unhappy, didn’t know what he wanted to do. He was drinking, it was 10 o’clock in the morning. I said, “What’s the matter with you?! What are you doing?” He said, “I’m bored. I can’t go down and do the same songs every night.” I said, “Listen, Frank, we’re going to do a concert live around the world from Madison Square Garden. And we’re going to do it in a boxing ring!” I don’t know where the hell that came from, it just – Madison Square Garden! Sinatra! Jerry Weintraub! Boxing! And we did it and it was his greatest concert.

You managed John Denver for a while, but then he fired you.
He’d got to be a certain age, his father died, he got divorced and decided to fire me. I’d never been fired before. It wasn’t so terrible. I didn’t know why he was firing me and he wanted to tell me and I said, “I don’t care! Get the fuck out of my office!” Because as far as I was concerned at the time there was no reason important enough for him to fire me.

And I was not wrong, I was right. But he needed to do it for whatever reasons.

Your father took one look at your house in Beverly Hills and asked you if you were in the Mafia.
My father grew up in New York City with those guys, the Meyer Lansky’s, the Abe Reles’, these guys that were Jewish that were in the mob. He knew them all. It was just a reference point for him. Here I was in a big mansion with Roll Royces, Havana cigars and champagne and butlers and so on. He said, “How can you earn this much money? You’re not that smart. Jerry, are you in the mafia?” I said, “Dad, don’t be silly!”

After making movies in the '80s, you dropped out for a while but returned with the "Ocean’s Eleven" franchise. You took a lot of ribbing from Clooney, Pitt and the rest of the cast.
The funniest prank they ever did, we got on the plane and George and Brad said to me, “Let’s have a few shots of vodka.” I said, “You kids can’t drink with me. I learned from Sinatra. I’m a black belt!” And we did one bottle, two bottles, three bottles and all of a sudden I’m seeing two George Clooneys and two Brad Pitts and I said, “Jesus, this can’t be!” And they’re all fine! I passed out on the couch.

When I woke up I was in fog. My pants were open, my shoes were squishy, they put M&M’s in every pocket of my pants, my underwear, my shoes, and they melted. I said, “You bastards, how did you pull this off!!”

The fact is that their shots were water, mine were vodka. That’s how they got me.

It’s a glamorous life, but it’s a lot of work.
I have to be able to solve things for people. That’s basically what I do for a living. I’m a high-priced concierge. I solve things.