Fred Weintraub – Bruce Lee, Woodstock, and Me

Fred Weintraub – Bruce Lee, Woodstock, and Me

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When it comes to being a handyman, the more skills you bring to the job, the more paid work you can accumulate. The same, it seems, goes for entertainment business professionals. And you can rightfully say Fred Weintraub, who has just released his memoir,  Bruce Lee, Woodstock and Me, is the ultimate Hollywood handyman.

You name it, almost, and he’s done it. He made his first mark as the owner of The Bitter End, a New York City folk club, which opened right around the time folk music was having a big revival in the ‘60s. Groups like Peter, Paul and Mary performed there before they became pop music sensations. While Weintraub has mostly nice things to say about the various celebrities he encountered and worked with, there are a few he had trouble with. Somewhat surprisingly, comedian Bill Cosby was once such thorn in his side. The American public likely sees Cosby as a clean-mouthed family man. However, Weintraub describes Cosby as unreasonable and difficult to work with. He also recalls Cosby’s early days, back when he was trying to be more of a political comedian, much like Dick Gregory. He never fit that mold, so it’s a good thing he eventually gave it up.

One of the best stories from Weintraub’s folk club days involves Neil Diamond. For starters, it took Diamond’s handlers a long time to transform the skilled songwriter into the equally incredible live performer he would become. Yep, Diamond was once a shy and hesitant concert artist. There’s also a section where Weintraub, while at the time managing Diamond’s career, helped him end a troublesome record contract. This wasn’t just any record contract, however, as the tough looking guys on the other side of the table in the contract meeting turned out to be real life mafia family members.

Weintraub also spent time as an Executive Vice President of Warner Bros. where he produced some memorable films. Weintraub devotes the full chapter “How to Build a Dragon” to his ups and downs in bringing Enter the Dragon, starring martial artist/actor Bruce Lee, to American theaters. It is fun to listen in as Weintraub explains how complicated it was in convincing other American movie executives that Lee could, in fact, become a huge movie star. One other big film production of his, Woodstock, receives the full chapter treatment. Most people may assume that bringing one of the biggest rock concerts of all time to the big screen was a no-brainer. Yet Weintraub needed to fight tooth and nail just to persuade the money men to finance this effort. In the book, Weintraub gives some historical context in explaining how the Monterey Pop Festival had just previously been made into a film and flopped, which made Hollywood nervous about taking a chance on filming Woodstock.

Although this book may not tell us much we didn’t already know, it nevertheless portrays a behind-the-scenes guy with great stories to tell. What Weintraub may have lacked in tack, for instance, he more than made up for with perseverance.  This was a guy that simply wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer whenever there was something he really wanted. He’s the guy you certainly wanted in your corner if you we’re an artist because he’d always fight for you. For instance, he stood behind many folk artists in the ‘60s that were wrongly accused of having communist sympathies. (Remember, this was still during the Cold War). At the time, he convinced TV executives to book numerous folk performers on prime time shows back when many in that genre were still looked upon with great suspicion.

This book is recommended to anyone fascinated by American music and movie history. Fred Weintraub’s first-hand account makes these crazy days come alive on each and every page.


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