When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead by Jerry Weintraub
One Line Summary
How A Kid From Brooklyn Accidentally “Made It” In Hollywood
Jerry Weintraub may be one of the most influential people you’ve never heard of. He was a legendary mover in Hollywood who did everything from managing superstars like Elvis to producing Ocean’s Eleven. And he did it all coming from almost nothing financially.
When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead is a partial-memoir written right before Jerry’s death in 2015. In his own words, it does not contain all of his life but rather the key moments.
It’s an entertaining book because it’s safe to say Jerry had an entertaining life. But there are also massive success clues in here for people who are looking to take their life to the next level.
Why it’s Awesome
After reading this book, I can confidently say there are really a few things Jerry did well. But he did them so well that it’s all that mattered. Here they are:
- His ability to read people and get them to see his point of view was invaluable.
- This is not a guy who quit. Before he became the manager of Elvis, he hounded the current rep (Colonel Parker) every day for over a year.
- Passion for the entertainment industry. Even before he went into work in the mailroom at one of the biggest talent agencies Hollywood, he seemed destined to be there. But after a brief failed stunt in acting, he realized that his abilities might lie better in the business world.
You could call these the 3 P’s of success. It’s not complicated, but it does work. Anyone who has done anything of substance likely had at least 2/3 of these elements.
I’ll give you a couple of my favorite stories from the book to illustrate my point. The backstory on this one is that Jerry has a huge opportunity to became a major Broadway producer if he can secure the rights to The Cantebruy Tales. He’s been trying to sign it for several weeks and he’s almost out of time.
We got to the theater. Freyer, Carr, Harris, Merrick, Bloomgarden-all the Broadway big shots were there, looking to acquire rights to the show. They were craning in their seats, looking over, perplexed, trying to figure, Who is the kid with Coghill and Starkie? Is that Jerry Weintraub? Doesn’t he work with Elvis? What the hell is he doing here? The lights go down, the curtain comes up on a road in the country, a cart filled with travelers, each itching to tell his or her tale. The crowd is silent, rapt, but I’m not hearing it, not seeing it. I’m thinking about Frank Loesser: “Go to London, get the rights, we’ll produce it together. We’ll be partners.” I’m with these guys, have them to myself… but the show will end, the party will start, the drinks and congratulations and Broadway hotshots, and I will miss my chance.
I have to act now!
I leaned over and whispered to Starkie-we’re in tuxedos-“I’m sorry, Martin, and don’t want to alarm you, but a pain is shooting up my left arm and into my chest.”
Starkie looks over, thinks a moment, takes my wrist and says, “We’re getting out of here right away. We’re going to the hospital
“No,” I whispered. “I can’t take you out of your opening night.”
“To hell with opening night,” said Starkie. “You’re sick!”
Starkie and Coghill led me out of the seat and rushed me up the aisle, the whispers trailing us, out the door. I was slumped in back of the car. Martin was feeling my head, taking my pulse. We go by the Hilton. “Look,” I said, “if I can just get in there, sit down, have a glass of water, maybe I’ll feel better.”
We found a couch in the lobby. These guys were all over me, pale with fear, certain I was going to die.
“How do you feel?” asked Coghill.
“A little better,” I said.
“What can we do for you?” asked Starkie.
“Well,” I said, “I really want to buy the show.”
“Will that make you feel better?” asked Coghill.
“Oh, Nevill,” said Starkie, “just sell him the goddamn show.”
I bought it for ten grand. (My check bounced, but that’s another story.) With the terms agreed on, my condition improved greatly. The play was over by then. We went to the cast party. Everyone was there. Coghill stood on a chair and made the announcement. “The American rights to Canterbury Tales have been sold to Jerry Weintraub.” All those Broadway producers stood dumbstruck, couldn’t figure it out. Neither could Loesser. He kept saying “How, Jerry, how?”
I’m not saying you should fake a heart attack every time, only in a pinch.
Okay, I laughed. But it’s also extremely indicative of how Jerry sees himself and is wired. Resourcefulness, acting on pressure, persistence, persuasion and passion for his business. He shows it all right here.
The book is filled with stories like this. Here’s another really funny one. The backstory on this is that Jerry’s mom has flown into town and has agreed to be an extra on a movie Jerry is producing.
So she goes in, is treated like a queen, like she’s Julia Roberts or Marilyn Monroe. The hairdresser, the makeup people, they’re all working on her. Now comes time for her scene. She comes out in the background and is supposed to walk out the door. So Avildsen says to me, “Why don’t you direct it? It’s your mother.”
I said, “No, don’t be crazy.”
He said, “What do you have to do? Say ‘action’? Say ‘cut’? Everything is set up, don’t worry. It’ll be fun for her.”
I said, “Okay, okay.”
My mother and Tom Courtenay start walking. She’s supposed to go from here to there. But as she passes, she turns to Courtenay and says, “I don’t like that piece of jewelry.”
I yelled, “Cut! Cut! Cut!”
I said, “Ma, what are you doing? There’s no lines. You just walk.”
“Well that’s stupid,” she said. “If your father was showing some jewelry to somebody and she didn’t like it, she’d tell him.”
“Well, in this case, you don’t tell him anything,” I said. “You just walk.”
“It’s stupid,” she told me. “I wouldn’t do it that way.”
“But it’s not about you, Ma. It’s about Peter Falk.”
Meanwhile, Peter Falk and John Avildsen, and all the Teamsters, are standing around, watching me, laughing their asses off.
So I went back, and said, “Okay, let’s do it again. Action.”
She started walking, then, just as she passed the camera, she turned, looked right into the lens, and smiled like a bandit.
“Cut! Cut! Cut!”
“What’s the matter now?” she asked.
I said, “Ma, you’re embarrassing me.”
I’m talking quietly because I don’t want everybody to hear. They are all looking, and they know I’m screwed. No way I’m getting out of this without pain.
I said, “Ma, listen to me, please. I feel like I’m back in sixth grade. You’re killing me. I’m supposed to be in charge and you’re making me a child. My mother, standing on the set, telling me I’m stupid, telling me what to do. You can’t do that.”
She said, “Well, it doesn’t make sense.”
I said, “Ma, do me a favor, please? Just walk from there to there. Don’t look at the camera, don’t say anything, just walk.”
“Fine,” she said, “I was doing this for you but it’s not right.
We finally finished. I was exhausted. It took all day. We got back to the hotel. Jane said, “You know, you should invite your mom to the dailies.”
“No, not a good idea.”
“Oh, come on,” said Jane. “Let her see herself. It will be a thrill.”
So I called. “Ma, do you want to watch the dailies in the morning?”
“It’s everything we shot today,” I told her. “We take a look at it. Your film will be on the screen. You want to see it?”
“You want me to come to dailies?” she said. “No. I don’t want to see myself, I don’t care about that, it’s silly.”
I said, “Okay, good night.”
A minute later, the phone rang. “All right, if you need me to come, I’ll come,” she said. “And I can see that you need me.”
She brought my father. Peter Falk found out and he came, too. Same with John Avildsen, Tom Courtenay, and Charlie Durning-they were all there. My mother was sitting next to me. When she came on screen, she yelled out, “I look great!”
In the end, she loved it, mostly because she got residual checks from the film-$3, $27, $41-for years and years.
The whole book is filled with stories like these. So if you want to get inside the mind of a man who ran Hollywood, which I know you do, this is a powerful one.
Why Does It Suck
If you’re looking for technical “how-to”, you can stay away from this book. It’s really just entertaining stories, which can be valuable, but which are not exactly step-by-step.
The Wrap Up
Highly recommended for anyone who feels their life belongs in Hollywood. This will give you insight into the entertainment industry and what it takes to make it, especially on the business side. Otherwise, it’s an important book for anyone who wants to be a mover and shaker in their area of expertise. Let Jerry’s charisma and tenacity inspire you.