Fred Weintraub, Music & Film Impresario, Dies at 88

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Fred Weintraub (r.) with Bruce Lee

If Fred Weintraub had only launched and operated The Bitter End, the Greenwich Village folk and comedy nightclub whose stage hosted everyone from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell to Lenny Bruce and Nina Simone, he still would have earned a page in the entertainment history books. But Weintraub, who died Sunday (March 5) at age 88 in Pacific Palisades, Calif., of complications from Parkinson’s disease, also introduced martial arts legend Bruce Lee to American moviegoers and helped make the Woodstock film a reality.

Born Fred Robert Weintraub on April 27, 1928, in the Bronx, N.Y., the future impresario attended the Wharton School of Business and first worked for his father’s furniture and toy business. He ultimately took it over and expanded it, but his wanderlust took him away from that life. He went to Cuba, where he played piano in a bordello, but he then returned to New York City, where he opened the Bitter End at 147 Bleecker Street in 1961.

One of the many live albums recorded at the Bitter End

At the time, the folk music revival was just getting under way and Weintraub was astute enough to capitalize on it. He held hootenannies there and booked all of the young singer-songwriters and groups that were exploring folk music at the time, including Peter, Paul and Mary, whose debut album showed, on its cover, the trio standing inside the club.

Related: The Bottom Line opens in NYC, 1974

Weintraub didn’t limit himself to folk, however, or even to music. Woody Allen, George Carlin, Billy Crystal, Joan Rivers and Bill Cosby all worked the Bitter End’s audiences, and artists as diverse as Randy Newman, Curtis Mayfield, Billy Joel, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Frank Zappa, Kris Kristofferson, Les Paul, the Isley Brothers, Miles Davis, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder and Rick Nelson were among the thousands of artists who played the room, which is still in operation and now features primarily rock. In 1975, Bob Dylan launched his Rolling Thunder Revue tour at the 230-seat venue. (An extensive list of musical artists and comedians who appeared at the Bitter End is available here.)

In 1965, Weintraub hired Paul Colby to manage the club, and he purchased it in 1974, operating it until late in his life (Colby died in 2014).  The club briefly changed its name to the Other End in 1975 (the same year that Bob Dylan launched his Rolling Thunder Revue tour at the venue), but a few years later it was changed back.

Weintraub had already set his sights on other pursuits early in his career. In 1969, he convinced Warner Bros. to invest $50,000 in the upcoming Woodstock music festival, which paid off handsomely when the company earned millions from the film of the event. And, as a Hollywood producer, Weintraub followed a hunch and cast a young martial arts instructor named Bruce Lee in a film called Enter the Dragon, which triggered a worldwide craze and made an international icon of Lee.

Weintraub went off on his own to produce such hits as the David Carradine TV series Kung Fu and The Dukes of Hazzard. In 2011, Weintraub published his memoir, Bruce Lee, Woodstock and Me.

Even Lady Gaga played the Bitter End, sort of. Watch here.

And here is Richie Havens performing at the club in 1968.

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  1. Mike Lenowsky
    #1 Mike Lenowsky 9 March, 2017, 03:13

    So glad I read this. Learned some stuff about Mr. Weintraub but even better..there was a link to a story on the old Bottom line club here in N.Y.which I have so many great memories from. It’s still a shame that they were basically forced to close after 9/11..due to ridiculous rent increases and nyu wanting to use the property for it’s campus. The place was legendary for so many great shows..much like the bitter end but way more diverse!

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