Life Lessons from Film Producer Jerry Weintraub

We ate in the commissary. Daves talked with my father. Everywhere I looked, I saw stars. At one table, Betty Grable was in costume, killing time as the cameras were moved for the next shot. She wore a sheer dress, and, of course, my eyes went straight to those beautiful legs. She was eating a sandwich, drinking a soda. I could not take my eyes off her. As she was -eating and drinking, and as I was watching, she belched. It might sound like nothing, but to me it came as an epiphany. Those beautiful legs. And she belched! It upset me, and elated me, too. It meant these big stars were just people, normal human beings. It meant I could live here someday, be one of them. I told Betty Grable about this years later, that my career was made possible by her belch—I don't think it thrilled her. She smiled and said, "Well, Jerry, I'm glad I could help."

My father took us to Beverly Hills so we could see where the movie stars lived. It was nothing then, just a sleepy little town, as I said, filled with mom-and-pop stores. We went through the roads above Sunset Boulevard, where mansions clung to the cliffs. In my memory, every house is midcentury Spanish with porticos and overlooks and guest cabanas and side porches where the desert wind blows through the Joshua trees and cypress. I live in one of these houses now. I've had it remodeled, but you can still see the bones of old Beverly Hills. (Imagine a madcap silent screen star wandering in the halls, getting drunk on champagne, wrecking her coupe then calling the studio head to keep it out of the papers.) I bought it in the early 1970s, in a moment of success. It is just the sort of place I imagined an old-time studio great might live, Harry Cohn, David O. Selznick, or Irving Thalberg. It's where I'm writing these pages, telling these stories, each on its own an anecdote, but together the life of the kid with a dream looking back when the dream has come true.

I graduated from P.S. 70 a few weeks before the trip, and had brought along my autograph book, which is what we had instead of a yearbook. I waved it at every celebrity I met—on the carpet at Ciro's, on the Fox Lot, in Beverly Hills. I carried it to the doors of several mansions. Just walked right up and rang the bell. (If you tried this today, you'd be "neutralized," a burlap sack would be thrown over your head and you'd be hurried off to a secret location.) I still have that old autograph book. It's like something from another age, small, green, filled with signatures—some from teachers, some from classmates, some from movie stars. -Carmen Miranda, Bette Davis, Paul Douglas, each of whom added a few words of encouragement. "Keep going, Jerry!" "You'll make it, Jerry!" "You'll be great, Jerry!" Years later, when I met some of these people again, I showed them the book. And they laughed. Betty Grable wanted to take a pen and add, "You're welcome for the belch, Jerry." I told her not to do it. You really shouldn't tamper with a historical document.

From the book When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead Copyright (c) 2010 by Jerry Weintraub. Reprinted by permission of Twelve Books/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved

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