Jerry Weintraub, the music promoter-turned-film producer who died Monday at age 77, had a decidedly old-school approach to making movies. During a career spanning more than 50 years — including a start in the William Morris mailroom and a stint running United Artists — he worked and rubbed elbows with everyone from Frank Sinatra to George H.W. Bush to Julia Roberts, and had as many candid opinions as he did contacts.
A Hollywood producer with dozens of credits to his name, Weintraub once described himself to The Times as a "hands-on" type — "both hands," he quipped. Indeed, he left his fingerprints on a long list of films. Though his oeuvre had the feel of what might be described as high-end entertainment — accessible works with a filmmaker polish — he produced movies across the prestige spectrum.
Weintraub made his first foray into producing after meeting Robert Altman at a party in 1973. The two hit it off, and the "MASH" director sent Weintraub the script for "Nashville," his sprawling musical-drama about the intersecting lives of two-dozen characters in the Athens of the South. Though not a huge commercial hit — it grossed about $10 million and cost about $2 million to make — "Nashville" was praised by many critics and nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture and director. (It won original song.)
Weintraub's other early producing successes included "Oh, God!" in 1977, "Diner" in 1982 and one of his best-known movies: "The Karate Kid" in 1984. The coming-of-age story about a bullied high-school student (Ralph Macchio) who learns how to fight from his sage handyman (Pat Morita) proved to be a summer sleeper, grossing $90 million. It went on to spawn three sequels and a 2010 reboot, all of which Weintraub produced.
For the Record
An earlier version of this post erroneously said "Diner" was released in 1983.
Another hit franchise resulted when Weintraub and director Steven Soderbergh remade the Rat Pack heist movie "Ocean's Eleven" in 2001, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt taking over for Sinatra, Dean Martin and the gang. "Eleven" and its two imaginatively titled sequels, "Ocean's Twelve" and "Ocean's Thirteen," combined to gross more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office.
Weintraub also produced work for the small screen, especially via his relationship with HBO. Among those pieces was the acclaimed Liberace drama "Behind the Candelabra," which won 11 Emmys as it reunited the producer with Soderbergh.
Not everything Weintraub touched turned to gold: "Cruising," the 1980 Al Pacino-starring thriller about a serial killer haunting New York gay bars and S&M clubs, underperformed at the box office and was dogged by protests from gay groups. (That said, the film's once-notorious reputation has been reappraised somewhat over the years.) Other Weintraub-produced misfires include "The Avengers" — the 1998 spy film based on the TV show, not the Marvel blockbuster — and "My Stepmother Is an Alien."
Throughout his ups and downs, Weintraub remained a hard-charging character, as is made clear by the titles (and contents) of both the 2011 HBO documentary about him, "His Way," and the bestselling memoir it was based on, "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man."
Weintraub remained active till the very end. His final film as a producer, a live-action "Tarzan" tent-pole starring Alexander Skarsgard and directed by David Yates, will hit theaters next summer.
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