Though we’ve never met, it’s hard for me to imagine a world without Fred Weintraub. He had a hand in nearly everything I liked, beginning back in the Boomer dawn. Back in the early 1960s, Weintraub, who recently published a lively, short book memoir entitled Bruce, Lee Woodstock and Me, opened his zeitgeist-amplification program as owner and host of The Bitter End, a quintessential Greenwich Village folk club that defined not only New York boho life, but an entire era. Bill Cosby, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, David Crosby, and Bob Dylan were amongst his early discoveries.
“When I knew him he was Bobbie Zimmerman,” said Weintraub, who soon after plugged his diverse connections into a short-lived game-changing television show, Hootenanny, which probably did more to turn the tide of American pop culture away from saccharine ‘50s pop than Tim Leary did. “It was a great experience and I used to go to the show on rehearsal night and watch the stars getting autographs from each other,” Weintraub said. “They were like kids.” The experience ended in typical 1960s self-administered poison, though, when folk purists (Joan Baez and the The Greenbriar Boys among them) called for a boycott of the show for refusing to book Pete Seeger, who was still under de facto blacklisting for refusing to sign to the HUAC committee a decade earlier.
If that’s not enough, Weintraub was also visionary enough to produce the greatest martial arts film of all time, Enter the Dragon, starring his unlikely protégée, Bruce Lee. (He also nearly succeeded in getting Lee to star in his super-culty television show, Kung Fu.)
But wait, there’s more. Weintraub, who did not go to Woodstock (he was “in a meeting”), did produce the film that memorialized the 400,000 person party on Yasgur’s farm. “There was 300 hours of film shot and not one clapboard,” he said. “The kids who made that movie, assembled all those performances, synched sound to images of The Who — they were geniuses.” If being there amounts to a kind of genius, then Weintraub is the Einstein of being the right person in the right place, and his funny, clear, and uncomplaining book will offer help to those of us still a little bleary about the times that made us.
Fred Weintraub will sign copies of his new book, Bruce Lee, Woodstock, and Me: From the Man Behind a Half-Century of Music, Movies and Martial Arts at Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.) on Sunday, January 29 at 2 p.m. Call 682-6787 for info.