Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jerry Weintraub on HBO: His Way

Jerry Weintraub is one of the few people in Hollywood with serious Rat Pack cred. As a concert promoter he worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. He can sell anything to anyone, but producing movies became his passion. Incapable of thinking small, his successes and failures are the stuff of Tinsel town lore. Relying heavily on colorful anecdotes from the man himself and his famous friends, Douglas McGrath profiles the self-made mogul in His Way (trailer here), which debuts on HBO this coming Monday.

Set to the sounds of Sinatra swinging “World on a String,” His Way’s opening credit sequence perfectly sets the mood for the story that follows. It is so cool, it’s hilarious. Brooklyn-born and Bronx-raised, Weintraub showed an entrepreneurial flair at an early age. After serving in the Air Force, Weintraub fast-talked his way into an agenting gig with MCA. In fact, one of his best stories involves a memorable encounter with the feared and revered agency head Lew Wasserman. Eventually, Weintraub struck out on his own, successfully transitioning from talent agent, to concert promoter, and finally to film producer. Along the way, he signed and quickly married singer Jane Morgan, after they picked up a pair of quickie divorces in Mexico. Yes, the film isn’t called “His Way” for nothing.

Weintraub might be the only person to inspire friendly on-camera reminiscences from lefties like George Clooney and Matt Damon, as well as Pres. George (41) and Barbara Bush. Contrary to popular perceptions, Weintraub also paints an affectionate (if somewhat eccentric) portrait of Presley’s manager, “Colonel Tom” Parker. He can certainly tell a story, though it helps to have material like Sinatra’s chaotic but ultimately triumphant “Main Event” concert broadcast live from Madison Square Garden.

His Way is a very funny film, but Weintraub’s Horatio Alger story is engaging in its own idiosyncratic way. There is no denying his work ethic and tenacity. He also personifies resiliency, clawing his way back on top after going “belly up.” McGrath (the Oscar-nominated co-writer of Bullets Over Broadway) understands the appeal of the material, focusing on the Weintraub attitude. Yet, despite documenting his taste for vodka, neither drugs nor sordid legal scandals factor into his story, in so far as McGrath chooses to tell it. As for Weintraub’s personal life, Charlie Sheen would probably say he is the original “winner.” Oceans co-stars Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts find themselves tongue-tied just talking about it.

There is plenty of gossipy dirt on Weintraub available on the internet, but McGrath wisely opts to keep the tone light and breezy, embracing the Rat Pack vibe with relish. If this constitutes collaborating with Weintraub’s relentless self-promotion, at least it is great fun to watch. Highly entertaining, His Way airs this Monday (4/4) on HBO, where it fits in quite nicely with their documentary programming.