MiceChat favorite, Sam Gennawey, returns today with a peek into his brand new book, the JayBangs Story. The book tells the fascinating tale of how Jay Stein built Universal Orlando and his run-ins with the Mouse.
If it hadn’t been for Bruce Jenner in his helicopter, Jay Stein might have been put in charge of the Disney theme parks.
Jerry Weintraub had managed artists including Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, and John Denver. The Universal Amphitheatre was frequently the venue for his clients. Later, he organized and managed large arena concerts. He then became a successful television and movie producer.
When Weintraub called Jay in July 1985, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Jay had known the producer for many years. The two played tennis weekly, and Jay considered Weintraub a good friend. Also, Jay was always on the hunt for new ideas and new properties to exploit, and he relied on his relationships with producers to give him an edge. Weintraub told Jay that he wanted to meet privately as he had something crucial he wanted to share with him.
Jay prodded for more information, but Weintraub said that he could not discuss it on the phone. Jay told him that he was busy with the pre-production for Florida and could not afford the time to drive all the way out to Weintraub’s house in Malibu. Weintraub then reluctantly divulged that somebody wanted to meet him. Jay agreed, and they set a date to meet.
When Jay arrived at Weintraub’s house on the Pacific coast’s Paradise Cove, he was met by Weintraub’s wife, singer Jane Morgan, and she led him to Weintraub who was sitting outside alone, overlooking the ocean on that beautiful warm day. Morgan offered Jay a drink, and he ordered one of whatever Weintraub was drinking. Jane poured some lemonade and then left.
“Why all the mystery,” Jay asked. Weintraub just smiled and said, “He just called, and he’s running a little late; he will be here shortly.” Ten minutes later, in walks a very tall, thin, patrician-looking man wearing glasses. It was Frank Wells, president of the Walt Disney Company. Jay recognized him immediately. Weintraub made the introductions, and they began about thirty minutes of talking about Wells’ failed attempt to scale Mount Everest in 1983.
Jay was clueless as to why this meeting was taking place. Finally, Wells started talking about Disney and how their Florida parks were performing. He asked Jay numerous questions about how they do things and was effusively complimentary. Then Wells smoothly switched gears and said they were having some “leadership” issues. He told Jay that the man they had running their parks was a long-time loyal employee who was a good soldier, but he lacked imagination and creativity.
Wells was referring to Dick Nunis. Nunis had started at Disneyland just before the opening as one of the trainers and rose to the position of chairman of Walt Disney Attractions. Wells began to trash Nunis, saying that Nunis only knew how to do things one way, and was hesitant to introduce anything new. They were looking to make a change. Wells asked Jay, “How would you like to come work for the Walt Disney Company? You can build the park you want. What would you do differently in our parks?”
During the conversation, a helicopter was circling over Weintraub’s house. Jay noticed Wells beginning to show signs of sweat under his shirt. He was growing very uncomfortable. He finally asked Jerry, “What the hell is going on with that helicopter? Why is it circling your house?” Weintraub began to laugh, “It’s nothing Frank. It’s Bruce Jenner. He does this all the time.”
Now the helicopter was hovering with its pilot looking in their direction. At this point, Wells stood up and said, “I don’t want to continue our discussion at this time. That helicopter is bothering me! I just don’t like it.” Weintraub again tried to convince Wells it was only Jenner “doing his thing.” Wells was not persuaded. The meeting lasted only a couple of minutes longer before the nerve-racked Wells felt like he was being set up. They all quickly shook hands, and he left abruptly.
Once Wells had left, Jay asked Weintraub what the purpose of the meeting was. Weintraub replied, “They were trying to steal you away.” Jay was not so sure about the offer. He never heard from Wells or Disney again. Jay has kept this meeting a secret until now, for this book. Only Tony Sauber and Bob Finkelstein knew of the offer.
There were several occasions over the following years when Jay was publically criticizing Disney and Michael Eisner often responded, “Stein is only mad, angry because we did not hire him.” Every time these remarks came up in print, Jay expected a call from Sheinberg or Wasserman demanding an explanation. They never called, nor did any of Jay’s employees ever question if this were true. Eisner’s credibility within the ranks of MCA was so small and insignificant that everybody just ignored his remarks.
On July 6, 2015, Jerry Weintraub passed away. The day before, he and Jay had breakfast, and they reminisced about the meeting with Wells. Jay speculated on what would have happened if Wells had not been interrupted and had put a firm offer on the table. Jay’s first action would have been to go to Sheinberg and tell him about the offer. He felt that would be the honorable thing to do. If asked to stay, Jay would only ask for two conditions. First, MCA would have to match the Disney offer. More importantly, Sheinberg would have to give Jay an iron-clad commitment that they would build the Florida park with or without a partner. Unfortunately, for Jay, the search for that elusive partner would have to continue.
Continued in “JayBangs”!