Valenti: 'A Giant Voice of Reason'

Jack Valenti died Thursday at the age of 85. He was the former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and an influential person in American culture for decades.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, "Jindabyne" is rated R, one of the ratings that commercial films have carried since 1968. The man responsible for that rating system, Jack Valenti, has died.

Mr. JACK VALENTI (Former MPAA President): Some of these movies, they just turn my stomach, and I don't want to watch them. But I have a right not to watch them.

INSKEEP: Valenti's goal was to make it easier for parents to know what their kids might see. He was a former aide to President John F. Kennedy who was in the motorcade in Dallas when Kennedy was shot.

Mr. VALENTI: If I had to give you a four-word capsule summary of that day, it would be from one of the Yeats's poems in which he said the ceremony of innocence is drowned.

INSKEEP: Valenti later left the government to lead the Motion Picture Association of America. Hollywood had avoided government censorship by censoring movies itself. By the 1960s, movies were becoming more racy and the industry held off protests with the ratings system. That dismayed some filmmakers who might have to change their movies to get the proper rating or risk failure.

Mr. VALENTI: It is very difficult to tell a director to take a scene out of his picture if he doesn't want to do it, because he says I have a right to tell my story, and I agree they have a right.

INSKEEP: But Valenti insisted parents had a right to know what their kids might see. He was criticized over the years for being tougher on sex than on violence, but after his death of complications from a stroke at age 85, the director Steven Spielberg called Jack Valenti a giant voice of reason.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Valenti, Power Broker in Film World, D.C., Dies at 85

Hillary Rosen and Jack Valenti i i

Music-industry lobbyist Hillary Rosen and MPAA president Jack Valenti confer at a Capitol Hill press conference in March 2003. The two were vocal leaders in the entertainment industry's anti-digital piracy crusade. Rebecca Roth/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Rebecca Roth/Getty Images
Hillary Rosen and Jack Valenti

Music-industry lobbyist Hillary Rosen and MPAA president Jack Valenti confer at a Capitol Hill press conference in March 2003. The two were vocal leaders in the entertainment industry's anti-digital piracy crusade.

Rebecca Roth/Getty Images
Jack Valenti at Lyndon B. Johnson's swearing-in i i

Jack Valenti (far left) looks on as Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in aboard Air Force One on Nov. 22, 1963. LBJ Library Photo by Cecil Stoughton hide caption

itoggle caption LBJ Library Photo by Cecil Stoughton
Jack Valenti at Lyndon B. Johnson's swearing-in

Jack Valenti (far left) looks on as Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in aboard Air Force One on Nov. 22, 1963.

LBJ Library Photo by Cecil Stoughton

Former film-industry lobbyist and presidential adviser Jack Valenti has died, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Valenti, 85, had been hospitalized since a stroke last month.

In nearly four decades as president of the MPAA, Valenti devised the ratings system for films and represented Hollywood's interests in the nation's capital.

In one famous 1982 congressional hearing, Valenti argued that "the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone." He remained active in shaping public policy on digital piracy and copyright until retiring from the MPAA in 2004.

Before taking the helm at the MPAA, Valenti served as an adviser to Lyndon Johnson, beginning on the fateful day Johnson became president.

Valenti, then a public-relations professional hired to handle the press during President John F. Kennedy's visit to Dallas, was riding in the presidential motorcade Nov. 22, 1963. After Kennedy was assassinated, Valenti was whisked aboard Air Force One for Johnson's famous flight back to Washington; he was drafted as a special assistant to the new president.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.