- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

Jack Valenti’s remarkable tenure as president of the Motion Picture Association of America concludes in a matter of days.

Mr. Valenti, the son of industrious Italian Americans who settled in Houston, was born in September 1921. He has been Hollywood’s chief lobbyist, spokesman and Academy Awards night dignitary since May 1966. Two generations of moviegoers and Washington insiders have grown accustomed to his cheerful advocacy and grandiloquent oratory when pleading such causes as the film rating system, inaugurated in the fall of 1968, or legislation intended to protect movie copyright owners from digital pirates.

Just the third president of the MPAA, Mr. Valenti will be succeeded Sept. 1 by Dan Glickman, 59, former Democratic congressman from Kansas (1977-1995) and secretary of agriculture in the Clinton admin- istration.

Not that Mr. Valenti will cease to be a Washington fixture after that date. He and his wife of 42 years, the former Mary Margaret Wiley, will remain Georgetown residents.

Mr. Valenti plans to continue oversight responsibilities for the Code and Rating Administration, the MPAA branch specifically concerned with movie ratings, in partnership with an executive of the National Association of Theater Owners, the country’s largest exhibitor group. He also has agreed to devote several days each month to a charitable organization, the Global Fight Against Malaria, Tuberculosis and AIDS.

The author of four books, one a Washington-based novel called “Protect and Defend,” Mr. Valenti also intends to resume systematic writing on a second novel. During a recent interview at the MPAA, he reveals that it will combine principal settings in Washington and the movie colony “because I don’t like to do that much research, and I can be confident with those stomping grounds.”

He mentions that his first novel, published in 1991 and optioned at different intervals by directors Milos Forman and Peter Bogdanovich, has attracted another bidder. “I’m very familiar with the whole option merry-go-round,” he quips. “You could make a nice living that way. This time a screenwriter has actually been hired. The other deals never got that far.”

An MPAA president is expected to travel frequently and relish ongoing diplomacy with strong-willed personalities in political and cultural capitals. Mr. Valenti is persuaded that there’s a “DNA” connection between Washington and Hollywood power brokers.

“I believe that CEOs and actors, congressmen and senators spring from the same personality DNA,” Mr. Valenti explains. “An actor is trying to persuade you to believe him. … When a politician makes a speech, he’s also acting. It’s still an act of persuasion that requires a performance.”

Mr. Valenti’s professional steppingstone to the MPAA 38 years ago was his post as a special assistant to President Johnson, his political mentor in Texas. A career in advertising and public relations after World War II, which put Mr. Valenti in uniform as a bomber pilot with the Army Air Corps in Italy, led to a close association with then Sen. Johnson. It also led him to matrimony; the future Mrs. Valenti was LBJ’s secretary.

The process that led to Mr. Glickman’s selection was more prolonged than the departing officeholder expected. “About a year and a half ago,” he recalls, “I told the companies, ‘Let’s set a plan for succession in place.’ We had reached an agreement on Billy Tauzin, a Republican congressman from Louisiana. The job was his. We had even started to design a contract. Then he called me to say he’d been offered a lot more, in every respect, by the pharmaceutical industry.”

The Tauzin deal fell apart in January. Mr. Valenti made a pitch to another good friend from the Hill who had decided not to seek re-election in 2004: Sen. John Breaux, Louisiana Democrat. He declined, but Mr. Valenti regarded him as a model candidate.

“You definitely don’t want someone on the extreme right or left,” he emphasizes. “It has to be somebody in the center who can work both sides of the aisle. I’ve been here during the tenures of six Republican presidents and three Democrats. This isn’t an organization that would profit by changing CEOs every time control of the White House or Congress shifted from one party to the other.”

What is it that the movie industry needs of the government? “First and foremost, to be protected in trade negotiations abroad,” Mr. Valenti replies. “We had a tough time when I first came here. For example, Indonesia and South Korea required that you entrust your picture to a local distributor. There was no other way to get it shown. They never paid more than about $200,000 for any title, and they could gross millions off them…. Now, with a U.S. trade representative and free trade agreements, we have protection for both market access and intellectual property. I can’t negotiate single-handedly with a country like China. You need the bulk and authority and muscular power of our government to set the ground rules.”

Mr. Valenti seizes the opportunity to tout the economic benefits of the entertainment business at large. “If you take the intellectual-property realm — movies, books, recordings, TV shows — we account for more than 5 percent of the country’s gross national product,” he says.

“We’re creating new jobs at three times the rate of the rest of the economy. Those aren’t minimum wage jobs. We bring in more foreign revenue than agriculture, aircraft, automobiles. We have a surplus balance of trade with every country in the world. No other industry can make that boast. We’re an awesome engine of economic growth.”

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