An Appreciation for Jerry Weintraub

There is so much to appreciate about the late Jerry Weintraub, who died Monday at age 77.

He had many careers, including Elvis Presley manager and producer of many great movie franchises including The Karate Kid and Oceans Eleven. He was the quintessential old-school movie producer; Jewish, born in Brooklyn and Bronx, work for a studio and then set up his own shop.

Confidant and publicist Paul Bloch told Variety that one of his habits and traits was keeping in touch and calling when down.

“Famous or not famous — he’d call and try to cheer them up. He’d tell them the next day would be a bright day. There was not a negative bone in his body.”

Ralph Macchio, the Kid himself, wrote this in Variety of the last time he saw Weintraub at a remake premiere of The Karate Kid.

He gave me a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, “I love you.” Then he called the photographers over to grab some pictures. He wanted to make sure my son got in the shot: one big happy family.

He was not always successful; his company went under at age 50, which gives anyone of an age looking for a new idea some hope.

However, I appreciate him for one thing, one thing he was not successful for. Back in 2007, he produced a new Nancy Drew film starring Emma Roberts. The movie has Nancy heading out for Hollywood while her father takes on some legal work for a corrupt The film was perfect; funny, suspenseful, elegant, witty and stylish. Completely timeless, it could have been released in the 1950s, or today. It was a joy back then to be able to take my then middle-school aged girls to see a movie that wasn’t a Disney cartoon or vehicle to promote music sales.

The film was not terribly successful; Box Office Mojo wrote that:

marketing took Nancy Drew for granted and then transplanted her to a high school fish-out-of-water scenario, loosely attempting a colorful comedy for young girls. The picture didn’t have enough consistency or connection to reality to score on that front, exacerbated by its self-reflexive Hollywood theme. 

We bought the DVD, and have watched it with the kids over and over again. I cannot tell you how rare it is to have such a film that we can all watch together, one that shows a teen-aged girl that is confident, smart and not obsessed with sex.

Through it all is a love for a particular view of America, and of Hollywood and all its weirdness. The view of America is one of limitless possibilities, conquered evil and good taste amongst a tawdry world. The view of Hollywood was slightly dark, but tinged with an appreciation for the realistic, for what was.

After buying the movie, I became curious about its producer, and looked him up, and saw the extent of his work, including a teen-aged favorite of my own, Diner, which to my mind had always been all about director Barry Levinson. As a childhood fan of the Grosset & Dunlap characters of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, I was even more appreciative that a person of his talent would take on the franchise with seriousness and yet a light heart.

His obit in London’s Guardian explains his uniqueness:

He tended to favour the nostalgic, the old-fashioned, the sort of thing you can imagine being discussed in studio back offices by an earlier generation. In the 70s, when Weintraub began to make his mark in the film business, Hollywood was a wild west: the old studio system had collapsed, the old certainties had disappeared, new and strange forms of cinema had appeared – from the counterculture, from the B-movie ecologies of sex and horror.

Happily, his children work in the business, which means his legacy will live on.