Jack Valenti, the former president of the Motion Picture Association of America who was tapped by embattled media companies to promote their V-chip/TV ratings system, has died at age 85 in Washington.
Valenti was a natural to head up the TV ratings education effort given his standing with top legislators, his eloquence as an elder statement, and his passion for freedom of expression.
Valenti created the movie ratings system some four decades ago to ward off government regulation of that medium. He had since become a leading defender of artistic freedom and opponent of government intervention in content.
Valenti's successor, Dan Glickman, said of Valenti: “[He] was a giant who loomed large over two of the world’s most glittering stages—Washington and Hollywood. He was a patriot who loved and served his country, and hewas a passionate champion of American cinema and artistic freedom. He was truly a modelfor us all.
“The entire MPAA community is deeply saddened by the news that we have lost Jack," said Glickman. "Our
thoughts and prayers are with Mary Margaret, with their three children, Alexandra, John and
Courtenay and with the rest of the Valenti family."
Barry Meyer, chairman of Warner Bros., said of Valenti's death: "Today, my heart is truly heavy. I have lost a dear friend and mentor -- someone who not only made a mark in history, but also had a profound impact on my life.
"Jack Valenti was a true leader and gentleman whose wit, fire and passion for our business inspired everyone regardless of politics or opinion, background or belief. Jack’s love for his country and the entertainment industry was only overshadowed by his love for his family and the many charitable organizations to which he was devoted. "
On behalf of all my colleagues at Warner Bros., our heartfelt condolences are with Mary Margaret, his children, grandchildren and the millions and millions of people who were directly or indirectly touched by Jack. "
Valenti's place in history was established before he took up the standard of the motion picture industry. He came to the movie post as the former special assistant to the president, the start date of that job speaking volumes--Nov. 22, 1963.
Valenti was on the trip to Dallas with then Vice President Lyndon Johnson, a longtime supporter and occasional speechwriter and campaigner for Johnson, Valenti had been asked to plan a portion of the Texas swing for Johnson and President Kennedy.
Valenti was in the motorcade, then famously in the picture when Johnson was sworn in as president after Kennedy's assassination. He was asked to join Johnson's administration and stayed for two years before joining MPAA in 1966.
Valenti was born Sept. 5, 1921, in Houston, graduating from the University of Houston in 1946, after servcie as a pilot in the Army Air Corp in World War II, and adding a Harvard MBA in 1948. He was an ad executive in Texas from 1951 until 1963, when he joined Johnson's staff.