- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jack Valenti, the former White House aide and film industry lobbyist who instituted the modern movie ratings system and guided Hollywood from the censorship era to the digital age, died yesterday. He was 85.

Mr. Valenti had a stroke in March and was hospitalized for several weeks at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore. He died of complications from the stroke at his Washington home, said Seth Oster of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

Mr. Valenti was a special assistant and confidant to President Johnson when he was lured to Hollywood in 1966 by movie moguls Lew Wasserman and Arthur Krim. A lifelong film lover, he once cited the 1966 film “A Man for All Seasons” as his all-time favorite.

When he took over as president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Mr. Valenti was caught between Hollywood’s system of self-censorship and the liberal cultural explosion taking place in America. Mr. Valenti abolished the industry’s Hays Code, which prohibited explicit violence and sex, and in 1968 oversaw creation of today’s letter-based ratings system.

“While I believe that every director, studio has the right to make the movies they want to make, everybody else has a right not to watch it,” Mr. Valenti told the Associated Press shortly before his retirement in 2004. “All we do is give advance cautionary warnings and say this is what we think is in this movie.”

Dan Glickman, his successor at the MPAA, said yesterday that Mr. Valenti embodied the “theatricality” of the industry.

“Jack was a showman, a gentleman, an orator and a passionate champion of this country, its movies and the enduring freedoms that made both so important to this world,” Mr. Glickman said in a statement.

The white-haired Mr. Valenti was familiar to movie fans through his regular appearances at the Academy Awards, when frequent Oscar host Johnny Carson would poke fun at his speeches. In Mr. Valenti’s later years, he handled tricky new challenges from the Internet and technologies that allow movies to be illegally reproduced and distributed in an instant. Mr. Valenti also sought to thwart movie piracy and boost film exports to reluctant countries such as China.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Mr. Valenti hurried onto Air Force One for Mr. Johnson’s historic flight back to Washington and promptly was drafted as a special assistant to the new president.

Mr. Valenti became known for his loyalty, likening Mr. Johnson to Abraham Lincoln for his civil rights efforts and declaring, to widespread ridicule, “I sleep each night a little better” knowing Mr. Johnson was in charge. He even met his future wife, Mary Margaret Wiley, in the 1950s through his budding friendship with the then-senator — she was Mr. Johnson’s longtime secretary. They had three children.

Yet Mr. Valenti resigned in 1966, over Mr. Johnson’s objections, to accept the movie post. He became one of the highest-paid and best-known trade association executives, with a salary topping $1 million and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The ratings program that featured labels such as “G” for general audiences remained his greatest legacy, although the system changed some over the decades. A PG-13 rating (parental guidance strongly recommended) was added in the 1980s. An NC-17 rating was added in the 1990s, intended to classify films intended for adults only.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I spent my entire public working career in two of life’s classic fascinations: politics and Hollywood,” he said in 2004. “You can’t beat that.”

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