Since Jerry Weintraub passed away, there have been several lively reminiscences of his larger than life journey that began promoting Elvis Presley concerts, to becoming the producer of films like Ocean’s Eleven. Many of the best stories focused on the hijinks surrounding the making of the Ocean’s Eleven series of films in Las Vegas. Occasional Deadline contributor Harvey Weinstein had a good one and was gracious enough to share.
Jerry Weintraub had style.
He was Old School, and the best of Old School. I knew him a long time. I knew him since I was 20 years old — and that is, well, a very a long time. I had started a concert company with my partner, Corky, and one day we got a call from Jerry, who wanted to produce Frank Sinatra at the Buffalo Arena in Buffalo, New York. He said, “Try to find a way of scaling the seats so that we make more money than we would on just a traditional sell-out.”
Well, we came up with the idea of a ‘Gold Circle.’ People could pay a thousand dollars a ticket to come back stage, meet Frank Sinatra and say hello. Just two rows behind the gold circle, the tickets were a hundred bucks. Anyhow, he was very, very impressed and at the end of the Sinatra concert, he said for the first time in my life, “that idea was pretty smart.” And then he said, “here’s two grand in cash tip.” (I’m absolutely positive I filed that tip with the IRS – no inquiries, please.)
So began a lifelong friendship and my idolization of Jerry Weintraub. When I told my eldest daughter, Lily, that Jerry Weintraub had passed, she said, “Dad, you’ve got to tell that story about George Clooney.” So, here it is.
Let me start by saying, I never go to anyone else’s sets. But, when the first Ocean’s Eleven was being filmed, the cast and crew were a family of friends. Steven Soderbergh, who we’d done sex, lies and videotape and Kafka with, was directing. Matt Damon was also a huge part of our lives, from Good Will Hunting and more. George Clooney (From Dusk Til Dawn, etc) and Brad Pitt were there.
All the boys invited me to come, so I went to Las Vegas and I brought my kids Lily and Emma with me — they were 6 and 3 at the time. At the Bellagio, we went downstairs to see George, Brad and Matt. They were all staying on the same floor of the hotel, and George had a giant pool in his room.
He met my girls — who couldn’t believe a guy could have a pool in his own room — and told them, “Come by in the morning! You can swim in my pool all day, starting at 7:30 or 8 o’clock in the morning. I’ll be up, we’ll have breakfast and you can hang out and swim and relax.” The girls went, “Wow, dad!” and looked at me with eyes that said, “he’s way cooler than you.”
Anyhow, with anticipation, my two girls woke me up at the crack of dawn and we got there at 7:30 or 8 o’clock and just as they were about to knock on George’s door, Matt charged out and said, “Hey, don’t go in there!” Jon Gordon, who was a good friend of Matt’s and working at the time as my second head of production, jumped out and echoed Matt, “Don’t go in there!” I asked why. They took me aside and explained, “George went to a nightclub last night and invited the entire club back to his room. They’re all in there and your kids will be mentally disturbed forever if they go into that room.”
And then, sauntering down the hall came Jerry Weintraub. He was in a dressing gown, yelling at the top of his voice, “F*** YOU CLOONEY! F*** YOU CLOONEY!” I looked at Jerry, half ready to explain that my girls would be fine without a morning swim, and asked what was going on.
Jerry started to explain. The night before had been an overnight shoot, and he’d told everyone that he wanted to sleep in.
George, a master of impressions, had apparently added a new voice to his repertoire. The hotel concierge received a call from “Jerry” the night before, insisting that he had to be awake at 7:30 AM, and if he did not wake up, they were to keep calling…and calling…and calling until he did. Three hours of sleep later, the Bellagio operator was wrangling with the real Jerry, and Jerry, it seemed, was about to wrangle with Clooney.
That was the moment Jerry met my kids — sleep deprived and in the middle of, what I have to say, was a pretty great prank. Jerry and I told my girls all about Sinatra, how we’d gone on when we were kids to promote Elvis, and about our many other great adventures over the years.
Jerry looked at my girls, who were looking for the pool and were so disappointed, and said, “Come with me.” He took us upstairs to a special room at the Bellagio which was filled with kids’ games and slot machines and all sorts of games of chance. He talked to a couple of guys at the Bellagio and about 15 minutes later, they came back with an enormous roll of coins and handed them to my girls. And, for the next half-hour they won every game in the room.
Now, I always thought Vegas was monitored, but I guess when you’re Jerry Weintraub and you want to impress a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, all bets are off. The girls won game after game. They thought they were the luckiest two girls in the world and in a way they were, because they got to meet the great Jerry Weintraub in person, who had a heart of gold and a sense of mischief that lasted a lifetime.
And by the way, as my daughters reminded me when I showed them this piece, three days later the biggest array of toys and stuffed animals (there must have been three of four thousand dollars worth) came from FAO Schwarz, with a note saying:
Dear Lily and Emma,
I’m sorry I couldn’t make breakfast, but I hope you enjoy these!
When Ocean’s Eleven was playing in Cannes, and I needed him to come to amfAR, Jerry brought all the boys. They engaged in “kissing contests” and raised about a million dollars in 10 minutes for amfAR. When Jerry Weintraub said, “I’ll take care of it,” Jerry Weintraub did. And I am sure that he is in heaven and taking care of it, in Jerry Weintraub fashion.
My condolences to his family and my heartfelt thanks to Jerry for making the world a better place, and a much brighter one too.