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Valenti, Jack 1921-2007 (Jack Joseph Valenti)

Valenti, Jack 1921-2007 (Jack Joseph Valenti)

PERSONAL:

Born September 5, 1921, in Houston, TX; died of complications from a stroke, April 26, 2007, in Washington, DC; married Mary Margaret Wiley, June 1, 1962; children: Courtenay, John, Alexandra. Education: University of Houston, B.A., 1946; Harvard University, M.B.A., 1948. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic.

CAREER:

Weekley & Valenti (advertising agency), Houston, TX, cofounder and executive vice president, 1942-63; special assistant to U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson, Washington, DC, 1963-66; Motion Picture Association of America, Washington, DC, president, 1966-2004. Member of board of directors of TransWorld Airlines, Kennedy Center, American Film Institute, and Washington Star. Served as a presenter for numerous productions of the Academy Awards and other television specials. Military service: U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-45; served in Italy; received Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with five clusters, Distinguished Unit Citation with one cluster, and three battle stars.

AWARDS, HONORS:

American Film Institute's Charlton Heston Award, 2004.

WRITINGS:

Ten Heroes and Two Heroines, Premier Printing (Houston, TX), 1957.

The Bitter Taste of Glory (nonfiction), World Publishing (New York, NY), 1971.

A Very Human President (on Lyndon Baines Johnson), Norton (New York, NY), 1976.

Protect and Defend (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.

Speak Up with Confidence: How to Prepare, Learn, and Deliver Effective Speeches, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House, and Hollywood, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to popular magazines, including Saturday Review, Atlantic Monthly, Reader's Digest, Redbook, and Ladies' Home Journal, and to major newspapers.

SIDELIGHTS:

Jack Valenti was born in Houston, Texas, September 5, 1921. He had a varied career, starting off in advertising and founding his own agency in Houston in 1942. From there he moved on to politics and worked as a political consultant in his hometown. Valenti's position gave him a unique window into American history during the mid-twentieth century. He first produced various ad and campaign material for Lyndon B. Johnson, earning him a link to the political arena. As a result, in 1963, Valenti was part of President John F. Kennedy's motorcade in Dallas when he was assassinated, and later he witnessed Johnson's emergency swearing in as the new president of the United States after Kennedy was reported dead. Valenti served President Johnson until 1966, working as a special assistant and a speech writer. Then, in 1966, Valenti became the president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) at the urging of Lew Wasserman and Arthur Krim, who were at that time chairs of MCA/Universal Studio and United Artists, a very public position that he held until 2004.

During his MPAA tenure, Valenti oversaw a wave of change in the motion picture industry, including the elimination of the Hays Production Code, a dated set of rules that censored films to eliminate any nudity, profanity, or inclusion of various other "morally questionable" content, such as a scene depicting childbirth. He replaced this strict code with the more modern MPAA ratings system, labeling films according to content in order to give viewers an idea of whether the material was appropriate for children or those who preferred more family-oriented stories. Valenti also stood up for the rights of the film studios versus those of the major television networks during the early 1980s, at which time the Federal Communications Commission attempted to deregulate certain laws that prevented the networks from forming a production monopoly and cutting out the studios. Other aspects of his job were far more social, including his annual appearance at the Academy Awards. He also served as narrator for numerous television specials and other award programs. However, not all of Valenti's actions as president of the MPAA were popular, or even successful. In 2003, he discovered that the DVDs of films that were distributed as screeners to the Academy voters each year were being bootlegged and/or sold. As a result, he banned the distribution of the DVDs, a decision that was ultimately reversed due to a public outcry from the Academy members.

Valenti wrote several books over the course of his career. A Very Human President, published in 1976, gives an insider's view into the life and presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, with whom Valenti had worked both prior to and during his time in the White House. He also wrote the novel Protect and Defend, as well as a book on effective public speaking titled Speak Up with Confidence: How to Prepare, Learn, and Deliver Effective Speeches. Most notable, however, is Valenti's autobiography, This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House, and Hollywood. The book shows how much of Valenti's fortune was determined by luck and being in the right place at the right time, from his position working for President Johnson to his ultimate presidency of the MPAA. Tom Carson, in a review for Los Angeles magazine, quoted Valenti himself as saying: "Odd indeed are the turns of fate." The book traces Valenti's career from start to finish, and the book itself was published shortly before Valenti passed away in April 2007 of complications from a stroke. Although the book is anecdotal, some critics felt Valenti softened many of the events he describes. Jamie Robledo, reviewing for Back Stage East, remarked: "A master of networking, Valenti wrote a tome seemingly designed not to offend, taking the bite out of what could have been a sharp and insightful memoir." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews had a similar reaction, stating Valenti seemed "more intent on name-dropping and ticking off plaudits to buddies and bosses than in giving a reckoning of Valenti the man."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Valenti, Jack, This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House, and Hollywood, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.

PERIODICALS

Back Stage East, July 26, 2007, Jamie Robledo, review of This Time, This Place, p. 35.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2007, review of This Time, This Place.

Los Angeles, June, 2007, Tom Carson, "A Man of Letters: The Late Jack Valenti's Memoir Recounts a Lifetime Spent Sitting in the Lap of the God," p. 86.

Vanity Fair, March, 2007, George Wayne, "A Politician Oscar Could Love," interview with the author, p. 394.

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