Hollywood Legend Jerry Weintraub
The biography of Hollywood legend Jerry Weintraub is truly extraordinary. He was a American film producer and actor whose films won him three Emmy’s. Weintraub is also known for being a talent manager (one could say a recruiter) and concert promoter. The list of musicians he represented includes: Elvis Presley, John Denver, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and The Four Seasons. In many ways Jerry was the “Godfather” of concert promoters and a true showman.
Further, Weintraub is also known for producing films such as Nashville (1975), Diner (1982), The Karate Kid (1984), Vegas Vacation (1997) and the Ocean’s franchise (2001). More recently, Weintraub was the executive producer for a couple of HBO series – The Brink and Behind the Candelabra (both 2013). In 2011, HBO broadcast a television documentary about Weintraub’s life, called His Way. Weintraub was an amazing story teller and his book When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man and documentary are worth checking out for sure. I want to focus on one of my favorite Weintraub stories that hits home [as the time it was written we get ready for Thanksgiving 2016].
Weintraub Refused to Go Quietly
As the story goes, in 1969, Weintraub was living in New York on 54th Street and awoke at three o’clock in the morning to proclaim, “I just had a crazy dream” to his wife Jane Morgan (an enormously talented singer in her own right whom he managed). Jane said, “What was the dream?” Jerry proclaimed, “I saw a sign in front of Madison Square Garden that said ‘Jerry Weintraub Presents Elvis.’” Jane then said, “That’s crazy. That’s nuts. You know, you don’t know Elvis and you don’t know Colonel Parker. You know, how do you expect to do this?” Jerry then quipped, “I don’t know them now but I will.”
For the next year from 1969-1970 Jerry’s first phone call of the day, at 8:30 in the morning, was to Colonel Tom Parker and (as reported by Weintraub in his memoir) here’s how it went.
JW: Good morning, Colonel, this is Jerry Weintraub. I want to take Elvis on tour.
Colonel Parker: What are you, crazy? Why do you keep calling here? You’re wasting your money. First of all, Elvis is not working right now. Second of all, if he were working I have a lot of promoters that I owe dates too. A lot of producers I owe dates to. And it’s not gonna be you. It’s never gonna be you.
After a solid year of rejection one morning, in 1970, Colonel Parker had something different to say than the usual dismissive “No” “not interested.”
Colonel Parker: You still want to take my boy on tour?
JW: Yes, very badly.
Colonel Parker: Okay, you be in Las Vegas (in two days) at 11:00 o’clock with a million dollars and we’ll talk a deal.
Weintraub Gets a “Yes” Finally
The year was 1970 and, therefore, securing 1 million dollars in two days had long odds. Jerry didn’t have a million dollars and, in fact, owed a bank about $65k. By sheer persistence and phoning practically everyone he ever met or knew within a 48 hour period, low and behold, he found a wealthy business owner in Seattle, WA that said “Yes.” The Elvis super-fan, from the Pacific Northwest, was willing to wire Jerry a million dollars site unseen for a chance to fund an Elvis concert tour. Weintraub showed up in Las Vegas at the bank 2 days later and worked out a deal with Colonel Parker.
Elvis proceeded to put on an incredibly successful and lucrative concert tour. The tour would also be remembered for providing concert goers with reasonable ticket prices. As the tour came to a close, Elvis, Weintraub and Colonel Parker cashed in on the tour for sure.
What’s more, at the conclusion of the tour Colonel Tom Parker took Jerry to a back room (behind the stage) and proceeded to reveal a huge pile of cold hard cash. Jerry proclaimed, “What’s this?” Parker exclaimed: “This is the money from the t-shirts, the hats, the buttons, and so on that have been sold throughout the tour.” Jerry then said, “We didn’t have a deal for the merchandise.” Parker then said, “You are my partner 50/50.” He then took his cane and smacked the table and said, “Half is mine and half is yours. Are we good?” After the tour with Elvis, Weintraub went on to have a storied Hollywood career partnering with some of the biggest stars in music and television.
The Power of Persistence is Undervalued
It’s funny how we often only see the ‘final product’ of a person or group’s success and assume that they must have had amazing breaks, luck, or connections to get where they are at. What’s often lost, by people, is the struggle of how difficult it is to achieve truly extraordinary things. It takes persistence and sheer will to do hard things. Often many obstacles must be conquered along the way.
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, and Matt Damon (just some of the star-studded cast of the Ocean’s franchise) have all commented on the amazing power Jerry had of getting everyone to a “Yes” when the odds were incredibly long to do so. In order to get all of the A-list actors to align their schedules to shoot the Ocean’s movies was nearly impossible. The odds of any other producer being able to make it happen would probably be about 0%.
However, Weintraub would call each cast member and tell them when the dates were for shooting and when they would inevitably say, “Jerry I can’t do it I’m busy during that time… no seriously I’m out.” Jerry would respond with, “Yea, I know you are busy but everyone else is in and you will be able to do it.” Famously he would tell each actor that all the other actors were all “in” even though they had said they were “out.”
Through sheer force of will Weintraub made it happen. There’s a lesson here.
The Weintraub Way for Business & Recruiting
When recruiters or business professionals are told “No” this can lead to cracks in their resilience, resolve, and self-confidence. We can begin to think we aren’t good enough, don’t have the necessary skills and abilities to do awesome things and, therefore, become unmotivated and depressed. But the Weintraub Way is to turn that negativity on it’s head and go in the opposite direction. When people say “No” or “It’s not going to happen” maybe you should double-down. The thought should be “Oh, it’s going to happen all right.” One of the great motivators for the human spirit is the ability to overcome obstacles and ‘win over’ the folks who aren’t on board with what we are ‘selling’. What is more, there is little in life that compares to the incredible high of ‘proving everyone wrong’ and accomplishing big things despite those that don’t believe.
There’s little doubt that there had to be mornings, in the 300+ phone calls that Jerry made to Colonel Parker, where he doubted his abilities and his power to persuade. But he didn’t let it hinder him or his ‘dream’. In the end he made the deal and was a key player in one of the most successful concert tours of all time. By sticking to a plan and being determined to see it through (no matter how difficult things get) individuals get a true sense of accomplishment. There is no substitute for the euphoria that comes from “Beating the Odds.”
So, you might be asking, “What the heck does this have to do with Thanksgiving?” Thanksgiving is a time for reflection. This year I’m going to think about how glad I am that over the years I’ve been told I couldn’t do something. Even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, hearing this skepticism has likely helped light the fire within me even hotter. The fire to prove the doubters wrong is powerful.
I’m Thankful For…
When you sit down for Thanksgiving this year with your family and friends take a moment to say thank you to those that have told you “No” or openly questioned your ideas, motives, abilities, or work ethic. It’s highly likely that those folks, that you may have perceived as shutting the door on your ambition, have helped to make you the success you are today.
Thanks Jerry Weintraub for sharing with us this incredible anecdote about the power of perseverance, pride, and not taking “No” for an answer.
In your own experience, are you able to pinpoint particular times when someone doubted you or said “No”? Did the rejection serve as a motivation for you to work even harder to prove them wrong? Have you ever thought to be thankful for those that weren’t on board with what you were selling? What other forms of motivation do find the most useful?