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Jerry Weintraub's inimitable style

May 19, 2010 |  3:00 pm

JerryweintraubJerry Weintraub is one of Hollywood's most beloved self-made men. Born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx, he has worked in show business for five decades as a movie producer ("Nashville," "Ocean's Eleven," "Twelve" and "Thirteen"), studio head, music promoter and manager of such varied acts as Elvis, Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Moody Blues and Led Zeppelin.

Now, at age 72, he's telling his story in a new book, "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man" (Twelve Books) written with Vanity Fair contributing editor Rich Cohen.

The book takes readers from road trips with Colonel Parker to poker tables with the Rat Pack, from the Bush compound in Kennebunkport to the halls of the White House, and into the present day, in which Weintraub lives with his girlfriend but is still married to and friends with his wife. Throughout, the connecting thread is style. Weintraub may be partial to Tom Ford suits now, but as a Hollywood deal maker who has run with politicians and rock stars, he's worn it all.

Which is why Barneys New York hosted a book signing and cocktail party for him at the Beverly Hills store on Tuesday. Barneys New York Creative Director Simon Doonan wore a white tux jacket by CAA agent-turned designer Scott Sternberg's line Band of Outsiders for the occasion, along with jeans from partner Jonathan Adler's new line with 7 For All Mankind. Other well-wishers -- including James Caan, Elliott Gould, Jeff Goldberg, Bruce Willis, Rande Gerber, Cameron Silver and director RJ Cutler -- came out in everything from Phillip Lim leather coats to Comme des Garcons for H&M blazers worn with jeans, proving that the reign of the power suit in Hollywood is over.

I chatted with Weintraub for a few moments about the book and his sense of style:

How did the idea for the book come about?

Rich Cohen did a piece on me in Vanity Fair and it was very well received. The reaction was great, people said it was like talking to me.  He suggested we do a book. I've been asked to do books over the years. In fact, I signed a contract at age 40. But when I started doing it, it was like going through therapy. So this sounded like something I didn't want to do. But I finally said OK, let's see if anyone is interested in it, and we got a bunch of offers.  
What role has style played in your life?

An important one. Depending on what I was working on, my clothes changed and I changed. I believe what you wear and what you drive and where you eat are part of your style. When I was with Elvis, I was in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. When I was with Frank (Sinatra) I was in a tuxedo. When I was with Led Zeppelin, I was in jeans and a Mr. Fish (Michael Fish) shirt. I was very adaptable. When I made the film "Cruising," I showed up for the shoot in Westport, Conn., wearing a leather bracelet with spikes on it. When I got home, I said, 'What the hell is this?'

In high school, your first big clothing splurge was a red jacket. You write that it was the beginning of your life as a working man. Explain.

I fell in love with James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause," and wanted to look like him as much as I could. I found a red jacket like his, but I had no money. So I took my dad to the store and showed him the jacket. I asked him to buy it for me. He said it doesn't work that way. You have to go out and you earn the money. Because when you pay for the jacket after you've worked to get it, it's going to mean something. He was teaching me life lessons.
What is your Hollywood power uniform?

Suits and ties most every day. I used to get my shirts from Mr. Fish, now I get them from Turnbull & Asser. In fact, I was in there yesterday because I was next door getting a shave. I used to have a guy on Savile Row make my suits. Those were the days of James Bond. Now, I like the cut of Tom Ford's suits. And I always go to John Lobb for shoes. 
And for more casual days?

I wear a lot of Nike. My T-shirts are all by Johnson Motors, which is a company my girlfriend Susie owns with her sister. Their dad was a stunt driver, Bud Elkins. I have hundreds of them. They have me wearing them and (George) Clooney and (Brad) Pitt, (Matt) Damon and Tom Cruise. She's done a pretty good job of marketing. And I wear 7 for all Mankind skinny jeans. 
Who is the most stylish person you know?
Clooney has a great style because it's very simple and there is no pretense to it -- just a dark suit and white shirt. He doesn't grasp at the crazy stuff. Brad goes a little further and has a great sense of style. Will Smith has a great style. They all have a certain kind of look, but I don't think it's pretense, it's just who they are. And that's the most important part of style for me -- not being afraid to express who you are.
What are you wearing tonight?
A Tom Ford suit and shirt, and a tie and handkerchief by Amir at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He makes the best ties.
What's your greatest extravagance?
My Rolls Royce convertible. 
I hear you are working on a biopic about Liberace with Steven Soderbergh. That's gonna be amazing. Have you hired a costume designer yet?

Not yet, but I knew Liberace really well and there is a museum in Las Vegas that has all his stuff in it, so that's not a hard one. We'll have a great costume designer, and we're going to shoot next summer.

-- Booth Moore

Jerry Weintraub: The go-to guy to get connected

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Photo: Producer Jerry Weintraub signs a copy of his new book "When I Stop Talking You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories From a Persuasive Man" at a book signing and cocktail party celebrating the book release in Beverly Hills on Tuesday. Dan Steinberg/Associated Press