Confessions of a Hollywood Republican
With his new memoir coming out, veteran Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub talks to Nicole LaPorte about his two wives, being a George Bush Republican, and why he’s scared to go on The View.
“Call Jane and see if I can wear a sweater and jeans!” über-producer Jerry Weintraub calls out to Susie Ekins, the petite red-headed woman he has been living with for nearly two decades, and whom he introduces as “Mrs. Weintraub.”
It is the first day of Passover, and he and Susie are in their ultra-modern, Beverly Hills manse, which sits behind enormous, high-security gates on an immaculately landscaped road just north of Sunset Boulevard. In a few hours, they are due for a Seder in Malibu, hosted by Jane—Weintraub’s actual wife (his second), whom he also introduces as “Mrs. Weintraub.”
“I don’t know how you can make love to the same partner for 50 years. That’s a tough number,” says producer Jerry Weintraub.
This unorthodox marital arrangement might seem odd, or at least rife for tabloidesque drama, but this is Hollywood, where everyone writes their own script, no one more so than the 72-year-old Weintraub, whose epic career in the music and movie industries has involved everyone from Sinatra and Elvis (whom he managed later in their careers) to Clooney and Pitt (he produced the Ocean’s Eleven films).
Old chestnuts from this journey are lovingly, and often hilariously, burnished in Weintraub’s new memoir, When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead, which Weintraub wrote with Vanity Fair contributor and author Rich Cohen. But his work triumphs are not what he wants to talk about today. What he wants to talk about today are Susie and Jane—who, Susie reports back, is “fine” with the sweater-jeans ensemble.
“I wanted to get the story on paper about Jane and Susie, and my being married and living with somebody else, and having this great relationship with both of them, and them having this great relationship,” Weintraub says, sitting in his elegant screening room, one long, blue-jeaned leg propped up on a coffee table. As he talks—in his unhurried, Brooklyn drawl—he munches slowly on a pretzel (“I didn’t have lunch”) and takes sips from a glass of vodka, his preferred aperitif. Occasionally, he reaches over and runs his hand through the lush pelt of an enormous German Shepherd that is stationed next to his chair like a furry sphinx.
“It’s unique, you know?” he says. “But here’s my thesis on this. When I was a kid, if people got to be married 50 years, it was a golden anniversary. And it was a huge celebration, because no one could believe they were still alive.
“Now, with today’s medicine and everything, people live much, much, much longer lives. Thirty, 40, 50 years longer. And if God means for us to be with one partner for all those years… I don’t think so. I don’t know how you can make love to the same partner for 50 years. That’s a tough number.”
Gloria Steinem—hold your wrath! Weintraub swears both women are perfectly content with the arrangement (which was not born out of anything kinky; the Weintraubs simply wanted to avoid the long, messy process of dividing up their estate, which extends from Palm Desert to the ‘Bu). In fact, they even talk to each other on the phone three times a way (Weintraub talks to Jane five times a day.) He says when he first floated the idea of not getting married to Susie, her reaction was: “Of course. Don’t be silly. I’m fine.” Her behavior this afternoon—at one point she comes over and sweetly perches on the arm of her partner’s chair—suggests nothing to the contrary. The book, which is in no way a scandalous, showbiz tell-all, but a good-humored, and often self-deprecating romp of outrageous will and amazing fortune, also paints a picture of uncanny bliss.
“Either I’m a Mormon, or I’m just a lucky guy!” Weintraub says, grinning his boyish grin and polishing off a pretzel.
Weintraub’s story is the classic, self-made Hollywood tale, as it’s been molded by Warners, Zanucks, and Geffens. Born in the Bronx. Raised in Brooklyn. No patience for school or anything that smacked of tradition, structure. And so, restless and ambitious, he headed out West, ending up, inevitably, in the William Morris mail room. He pissed off Lew Wasserman (by tying up his phone line at MCA); married the blond, va-va-voom crooner Jane Morgan (where else, but in Vegas, in “one of those neon marriage joints on the Strip”); became friends with George Bush (the father, not the son), who got him into a WASPy tennis club; and then took the concert-promoting business by storm, first with the King, and then with the Chairman of the Board. Next came John Denver, whom he packaged for the masses; then producing movies ( Nashville, The Karate Kid), more movies ( Ocean’s Eleven); and now, a book that packs it all into 300 rollicking pages.
It’s an impressive feat, considering the breadth of Weintraub’s life, which, like Wasserman’s, has straddled both Hollywood and Washington. Besides his long friendship with Bush, Weintraub got to know Jimmy Carter (after he blew off a lunch date with him, not thinking the peanut farmer had a chance in hell of winning the presidency) and has long been a prominent Hollywood fundraiser, despite the fact that he’s not a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat.
“I was a George Bush Republican,” he says frankly (a daring statement to make in this very Left Coast city). “I’m a centrist… My politics are very simple. I am a fiscal conservative and a liberal on social issues.”
Asked how he voted in the last election, Weintraub smiles, but won’t give. “I voted for both of them for different reasons,” is all he’ll coyly allow. “Because I’m in the middle.”
What he will say, however, is that he’s “worried” about the current administration. “I don’t think the health-reform bill should have been passed with just the Democratic Party. I think they needed some support from the Republican Party. So I don’t like the way that came down.
“I’m rooting for Obama. I think it’s amazing and great and wonderful that this country voted for a black man for president. I think that’s over-the-top great. And I want him to succeed. But I’m worried.”
Something else he’s worried about is his upcoming appearance on The View, where he’ll be talking about his book—and, he knows, his idiosyncratic love triangle. “I know I’m gonna get whacked around,” he says. “I don’t mind that.”
“Who do you think’s gonna come down hardest? Elisabeth Hasselbeck?”
He dismisses Barbara Walters as a threat, because “we’ve known each other since we were kids.”
“I mean, I’m not an angel by any stretch of the imagination,” he says, thinking about it. “But I’m a good guy. I know I’m a good guy. And that’s why I won.”
He smiles. “But I’m not finished yet.”
Indeed, his next movie, a remake of The Karate Kid, starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, is coming out in June.
Looking back, does he have any regrets?
Then: “Maybe that I didn’t start drinking vodka earlier.”
And with that he gets up and goes to find Susie. It’s time to go to Jane’s.
Correction: Jane Morgan was initially referred to as Jane Reynolds. The story has since been updated.
Nicole LaPorte is a West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.