Rabbi Levi Cunin still remembers how decades ago, as a little boy, he visited the Malibu home of movie and music mogul Jerry Weintraub at his request with a crew from Chabad to kosher it — and gave the Hollywood producer the surprise of his life.
“One of the places where he got most shocked — but he was cool with it — is when you had to shave down his wooden counter to make it kosher,” said Cunin, 44, today the rabbi of Chabad of Malibu. “I just remember the reaction. Just like, he didn’t expect that level of labor. He expected a couple people to come over and bless it.”
Known for producing successful films like “The Karate Kid,” the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise and the Emmy-winning biopic about Liberace, “Behind the Candelabra,” Weintraub — who died July 6 of cardiac arrest in Santa Barbara at age 77 — also was known as an important supporter of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Spiritual if not religious by his own admission during a 2010 interview with Larry King, Weintraub said the teachings of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson spoke to him.
“I don’t go a day without thinking about the Rebbe,” Weintraub told King during the interview, which aired as part of the 2010 Chabad telethon. (Weintraub became co-chairman in 1984.) “I don’t go a day without talking to him. His picture is next to my bedside.”
In a separate episode not long after, Weintraub fell ill and was taken to the emergency room, where he was visited by Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of Chabad of the West Coast. Weintraub had no clue as to how Boruch Shlomo Cunin knew where to find him, but combined with the earlier experience it led him to become involved with the international Chasidic movement, according to several sources, including Fishkoff’s book.
Boruch Shlomo Cunin, who was close with Weintraub for more than four decades and spoke to the Journal in a phone interview on July 7, said: “We were saddened by the sudden loss of a very deep personal friend … [for] all the goodness and kindness he did for Chabad, for so many people, for all the [Chabad] telethons.”
A former Malibu resident who lived most recently in Palm Springs, Weintraub was a regular at the Chabad of Malibu High Holy Day services for many years. In fact, he appeared at a special dinner at the shul on June 19 and delivered words of remembrance for the victims of the recent Charleston, South Carolina shooting, Levi Cunin said.
Levi Cunin was only one of many who expressed sadness at the news of Weintraub’s death. In a blog, music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz (“The Lefsetz Letter”) said Weintraub was a “larger-than-life” figure who embraced people.
“There’s nothing Jerry wouldn’t do for you,” Lefsetz said. “He was wired in every facet of life. If you needed a doctor, if you needed a connection, he knew who to go to and opened the door.”
Weintraub’s friendships were political as well. He had relationships with Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and he served as an executive producer of a documentary about the latter.
“He was not only a decent man, he was a great man,” Weintraub said of Bush during a 2012 appearance on the CNN show, “Piers Morgan Tonight.”
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1937, Weintraub and was raised in the Bronx. His father was in the jewelry business, and Weintraub fell in love with the movies at an early age, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In his early professional years, he worked in the mailroom of a major talent agency, William Morris, and later he worked in the music industry, for MCA, with an emphasis on band management and concert promotion. Various news outlets reported that he worked with acts such as John Denver and Elvis Presley, introducing the world to the former and resurrecting the career of the latter.
Meeting filmmaker Robert Altman led to into the film business. He served as executive producer of the Altman film, “Nashville” and followed that with works such as Barry Levinson’s “Diner” and later “The Karate Kid.” His heist remake, “Ocean’s Eleven,” featuring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, was a blockbuster that spawned two sequels. In 2011, HBO released a documentary about Weintraub entitled, “His Way.”
He was a charitable contributor to many organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, including the Jane and Jerry Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Surgery at the UCLA School of Dentistry. American Friends of The Hebrew University honored Weintraub with the Scopus Award in 1988.
He is survived by his wife, Jane Morgan Weintraub, “from whom he was separated but never divorced … three children Julie, Jamie and Jody; a son, Michael, from a previous marriage, a brother, Melvyn; five grandchildren and his longtime companion Susan Elkins,” according to the Times.