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Great Life, Great Book
on April 10, 2010
Rich Cohen--I've been reading him for ten years--is one of the country's best writers. Jerry Weintraub--film producer, musician manager, deal maker--is one of the nation's best livers. (Mention an event, a celebrity, the man has a story.) Cohen can write anything; Weintraub has done nearly everything. Which is what makes this book such a perfect match. Weintraub is the real deal--came up without money or the helping hands than can do the work of money; produced the three "Ocean's Eleven" pictures, also "Nashville" and "Diner" (two decades' great classics), also managed Elvis, also Sinatra, also the chess-champion Bobby Fischer at Reykjavik. It's an amazing story. Weintraub goes everywhere and does everything; he heads someplace, arrives, finds himself at the center. A gift, which he discovers in himself and develops. He found a way to take Elvis on the road at 26, to bring Sinatra's career back at 35; when he's watching the Fischer chess championship on TV, he just buys a ticket, flies to Iceland, and more or less enters the screen himself. (That's one lesson Weintraub teaches from his kind of life. Find what you love, trust it. Then act.) The story is filled with advice, plus advice-by-example: hustling in the beginning, finding the angle, picking your allies--"If you work with people you love, which, of course, is not always possible, the hard times become an epic adventure"--then getting to a place where your own work functions as an ad, as the attraction: "I did not have to hustle quite as much. Once you've established yourself, you can, to some extent, let business find you. You become a beacon, a door into a better life."
Weintraub's own life swings into the rat pack and Sinatra (first call to Weintraub: "Look, kid, when I say I want to meet that means now"), the White House, Hollywood, Palm Desert: the five great gambling cities (Peking, Moscow, Las Vegas, Washington, Hollywood). Because of his gifts, Weintraub goes everywhere and does everything. His story is a chronicle, a great life, one giant path through the last fifty years. And Cohen, who loves to write lives like this (the corporate big shoulders in "Sweet and Low," the resistance fighters in "The Avengers") helps him tell this story. An incredible mix: Weintraub's friendships, destinations, experiences, lessons, voice, advice; Cohen's speed, words, eye. You feel you're there, which is the first requirement of any writing, and still the hardest one to bring off. You live Weintraub's incredible life alongside him. So the thing reads like a great Saul Bellow novel that also happens to be true--the skinny kid who chucks home, finds the center, makes it big. And there's the great thought that somehow, on some reclining chair with a phone at his ear and some big pending deal and expensive view, Weintraub is living the next chapter. A great mix, a great read. As Sinatra might say, You don't read it; you breathe it.