Life Lessons from Film Producer Jerry Weintraub

I remember him leaving for India, Paris, Ceylon. He would hunt the markets and bazaars for rubies, sapphires, diamonds. He had a beautiful suitcase and was a fantastic packer, shirts and pants folded into special compartments, pockets for papers, pockets for notebooks and cigars. He would hug Melvyn before he left, then say, "Take care of them, Jerry. You're the man of the house now."

When I was eight years old, my father returned from a trip with the largest star sapphire in the world. It was a piece of junk, picked up from a secondhand dealer. He polished it, then did something that made an impression on me. He named it. He called it "The Star of Ardaban." Why give a name to this old piece of nothing? Because it's not the gem a person buys. It's the story behind the gem. It's the romance. He had a special case made for the Star of Ardaban, the sort of case you might carry handcuffed to your wrist. He took a trip, traveling with the Star of Ardaban across the country. In each town, he was met at the train station by armed guards, a Brinks truck, and a local reporter. A few days later, after the story appeared in the local paper, he would invite all the jewelers to his hotel room to look at the Star of Ardaban. Then, as they were examining the Star of Ardaban, he was selling them everything else in his jewelry case. At the end of the tour, he donated the Star to the Smithsonian. It's there to this day.

This is a Bible story in my family, a foundational myth—it explains everything you need to know about my father's business and about my own. Though he was selling rubies and sapphires and I am selling Clooney, Pitt, and Damon, the trick is the same: packaging. You might have the greatest talent in the world, but it doesn't matter if you can't sell it. Am I Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway? No. I can't write a novel. I can't write a play. I can't write a song. But I can help the artist get that book or song or play noticed by the public. And that's packaging. When you dig through all the craziness of my life, you'll see that I'm just a guy from the Bronx who knows how to attract a crowd. I can get people to notice the sapphire, so it's not lying in a cellar where it might be found in a hundred years, long after the man who mined it has died. That is my talent. If I had been around with Van Gogh or Melville, they would not have had to wait so long for fame.

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