April 26, 2007

Jack Valenti, Dead at 85

Jack Valenti died today at the age of 85 at his home in Washington, DC. In March, he suffered a stroke which led to his hospitalization where he spent several weeks. It was complications from that stroke which ultimately led to his death. He had an illustrious career, first as a White House aide, but more importantly as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, a post he held for 38 years.

In 1963, Valenti was in charge of the press during JFK's visit to Dallas. Following JFK's assassination, Valenti become a close advisor to LBJ, even living in the White House for the first few months of his term. In 1966 he left his position at the White House and became president of the MPAA.

His tenure at as president of the MPAA was not without controversy. Before the controversy, the outspoken copyright proponent introduced the ratings system, which has stood in place ever since. Sure, there were some changes here and there, most notably in the dropping of the X rating after it was appropriated by the adult industry, and the creation of the PG-13 rating in 1984.

Controversy reached one of its peaks in 1982 when he lobbyied against the advent of the VCR and the ability of people to record programs at home. He famously made the following statement during a Congressional hearing: "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." A rather extreme comparison, and one that ultimately proved to be false, as it did pave the way for the home video market which gave Hollywood another way to get some cash from the public.

Also during his tenure, he supported the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, of which many of us music and movie lovers are not much of a fan. He also was behind the screener ban, which did not allow any studios to send out copies of their films to Academy members for awards consideration. It was done in an effort to stave off the prevalence of copies of those films appearing online. It did not last long, as indie studios came together to oppose the ban.

From White House aide and confidante to MPAA chief, Jack Valenti had a long career in the public eye. For better or worse, he left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry, and while I cannot agree with some of what he stood for, he will be remembered for a long time to come.

My prayers go out to his family and loved ones.


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