Niagara Gazette

July 14, 2013

SINGER: Managing the stars of summer

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Summer’s the time for concerts galore around here, and Elvis impersonators or those inspired by Sinatra will doubtless be coming to the fore. What the King and Frank had in common, besides being iconic, is an agent who took on both in the latter stages of their careers. With initial underestimation in place, I reluctantly bought Jerry Weintraub’s autobiography (“When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead”), thinking he’d be some superficial guy puffed up about trivialities (and hey, there are such types around).

The book, however, turned out to be fascinating pretty well all the way! Weintraub has Bronx-reared guts, a certain nobility, and the improvisatory genius you’d expect from someone who pushed a balky Colonel Parker into giving him a piece of the King.

Which then led to a phone call from someone claiming to be Frank Sinatra, wanting some of Weintraub’s promotional magic for his own career of the early ‘70s. At first Weintraub thought it was some kook on the line; once he got off the floor, so to speak, and started speaking to Mr. Sinatra, as he called him, he kept being chided–the name to be used was Francis, always Francis, OK? And meetings with the Rat Pack Chairman were when he called them, i.e., now.

What the book shows in a tasteful way is this super agent going from one adjacent opportunity to the next, rather as golfer Greg Norman did in his later business career. It helped that Weintraub wouldn’t take no for an answer. And that he brought out the best in people. And that he married the glamorous singer Jane Morgan (of “Fascination” et al.), becoming part of a power couple.

Even George H. W. Bush was taken with him (they met in Maine), and in turn, Weintraub had the independence of mind to value Bush, Sr., becoming his friend and seeing his potential for high office. (Not all people in Weintraub’s trade obviously this ecumenical!) Mainly, the super agent loved scouring New York or LA for new talent, and rightly, gets credit for “breaking” (his term) John Denver, finding him working for peanuts in Greenwich Village and soon plastering the world with billboards for the folk singer who made “Country Road” and other big hits of the ‘70s.

This success brought others like Led Zeppelin to Weintraub, and as much as the rest in his stable, their agent knew exactly how to handle the band’s imperious, sometimes neurotic demands. When Zeppelin whined before one gig for a louder sound system, Weintraub obligingly brought in a ton of black-painted boxes, and Zeppelin rocked the roof that night, unaware that these amplifiers weren’t real! When Denver complained that much was wrong on tour, including hotels, Weintraub eased out a man named Ferguson in his entourage. Except there was no Ferguson! And when Sinatra got down about the repetitiveness of his life, Weintraub immediately hyped Madison Square Garden–getting a “so what?” response to a place the crooner already knew. To which Weintraub quickly added the idea of having his celebrated client enter like Stallone and do his concert in a boxing ring, introduced by Howard Cosell; and while Frank’s funk dissipated, Weintraub worried himself sick about the planning. Of course it all went well–right down to the New York pizzas brought to Sinatra’s plane for a return trip out West.

This book doesn’t really lose steam toward the end, but I suppose you could say that virtue loses some of her proverbial loveliness. Weintraub dumps Jane Morgan, becomes very LA and into movie production, and please, give me a break with his role in spawning films like a new “Ocean’s Eleven.” Of course this is today’s Hollywood, which I sometimes wish would relocate to Niagara Falls (or Schenectady), where there are real stories and maybe movie-makers wouldn’t be quite so spoiled.

How nice that Weintraub became, as he says, a father figure to Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. And that he downed a great amount of vodka on a private jet to Europe. And that he’s been feted at Cannes for his production role in the recent movie on Liberace.

All in all, however, a very interesting account on Elvis, Frank, Denver, and not least, this manager of the stars.

B. B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.