Weintraub with martial arts superstar Bruce Lee on the set of 'Enter The Dragon.' (photo by Photo Courtesy Fred Weintraub)

THIRD STREET PROMENADE — For most people trying to film a martial arts epic, transporting a busload of bewildered Japanese tourists instead of your own actors to your movie set might seem to be a bit of a setback, to put it mildly.

For Fred Weintraub, it was just another day on the job.

In his memoir, “Bruce Lee, Woodstock and Me,” Weintraub discusses dozens of experiences that he’s built up over his years in show business, providing the reader with the tools necessary to make it big in Hollywood.

Those experiences run from watershed moments to madcap misadventures, and the reactions to the book have been just as varied, Weintraub said.

“Some people think it’s funny. Some people think there’s a lot of action. Some people say, ‘Boy, that’s sexy,’” he said.

“Everybody’s got a different point of view.”

Weintraub, a native of the Bronx who now calls Rustic Canyon home, started in New York where he founded The Bitter End in 1961. The Greenwich Village club showcased local musical and comic talent, and helped launch the careers of Bill Cosby and Neil Diamond. Like many of Weintraub’s ventures, it was created on a whim and a prayer.

“It was a coffee shop in Greenwich Village,” Weintraub said of the club before he took it over.

“I didn’t know what it was going to be.”

Weintraub put up a brick wall and set up rows of pews, given away by a local church, turning the coffee shop into a concert hall.

The brick wall was to become an iconic image, appearing behind comedians like Woody Allen, who joked on stage at the club, and acting as the background for album covers by bands like Peter, Paul and Mary.

“It’s a national monument in New York now,” Weintraub said.

In the early ‘70s, some friends of Weintraub’s had purchased the Warner Brothers studio, and were looking for someone to help them make movies for the younger generation. They picked Weintraub.

He became the creative vice president for Warner Brothers in New York, and promptly started taking risks. His first risk was to help finance a concert film that had cameras and a crew, but no film.

“I gave them a couple of hundred thousand dollars and a couple of helicopters. And that’s how it started, and it became a Warner Brothers production,” Weintraub said.

The documentary film was “Woodstock,” and it proved to be a critical and cultural success. But Weintraub was ready to try something different.

Weintraub, who had learned to make movies by watching them, had become exposed to Hong Kong cinema and was fascinated with the ballet-like quality of kung fu movies, he said.

It was around the same time that a friend introduced Weintraub to Bruce Lee, then a martial arts instructor with dreams of stardom. Lee had already acted in the short lived “Green Hornet” TV show, but Weintraub thought he would be perfect for a series about a martial artist in the American west.

The TV show would eventually become “Kung Fu,” but David Carradine, not Lee, would play the lead.

However, Lee had been noticed, and Warner Brothers green lit the project that became “Enter the Dragon,” a film that would help launch the popularity of martial arts movies as an international phenomenon. 

Lee took careful part in crafting the authenticity of the film. “He was very helpful in doing all the physical stuff. Every one of those stunts he did, and he choreographed all of them with the director,” Weintraub said.

Lee died before the movie was released in America, but it proved an enduring international hit.

In his memoir, Weintraub talks about the difficulties in making the film and provides some insight into Lee’s life, tackling rumors and perhaps creating some new ones himself.

After “Enter the Dragon,” Weintraub continued producing movies, often shooting abroad and using international crews, including the early Jackie Chan vehicle “The Big Brawl.” At home, Weintraub became involved in producing television.

His latest project has been his memoirs, a book that’s been in production a long time before its release.

“I’ve been fiddling around with it for maybe 30 years. My kids are always bugging me to write all these stories down,” Weintraub said.

Today, Weintraub maintains his show business connections, and is always considering new projects — including an “Enter the Dragon” prequel — and he has no intention of stopping.

“I’m having too good a time,” he said.

Weintraub will be at the Third Street Promenade Barnes & Noble to discuss his life, works and memoir on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. For more information, call (310) 260-9110.

 

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