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Jack Valenti
Jack Valenti Portrait.jpeg
Jack Valenti
Born
Jack Joseph Valenti

(1921-09-05)September 5, 1921
Died April 26, 2007(2007-04-26) (aged 85)
Alma mater University of Houston
Harvard University
Occupation President of the MPAA,
Special Assistant to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson

Jack Joseph Valenti (September 5, 1921 – April 26, 2007) was a longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America. During his 38-year tenure in the MPAA, he created the MPAA film rating system, and he was generally regarded as one of the most influential pro-copyright lobbyists in the world.

Early life

Valenti was born on September 5, 1921 in Houston, Texas. During World War II, he was a first lieutenant in the United States Army Air Force. Valenti flew 51 combat missions as the pilot-commander of a B-25 medium bomber and received four decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal.

Valenti graduated from the University of Houston in 1946 with a BBA. During his time there, he worked on the staff of the university newspaper, The Daily Cougar, and was president of the university's student government. Valenti would later serve on the university's board of regents.

After earning an M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1948, Valenti went to work for Humble Oil in its advertising department, where he helped the company's Texas gas stations jump from fifth to first in sales through a "cleanest restrooms" campaign.

In 1952, he and a partner named Weldon Weekley founded Weekley & Valenti, an advertising agency, with oil company, Conoco, as its first client. In 1956, Valenti met then Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. Weekley & Valenti branched out into political consulting and added Representative Albert Thomas, a Johnson ally, as a client. In 1960, Valenti's firm assisted in the Kennedy-Johnson presidential campaign.

Political career

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office, November 1963
Valenti (far left) was present at Lyndon B. Johnson's swearing in aboard Air Force One

Valenti served as liaison with the news media during the November 22, 1963, visit of President John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson to Dallas, Texas, and Valenti was in the presidential motorcade following the assassination of President Kennedy.

He was also present in the famous photograph of Lyndon Johnson's swearing in aboard Air Force One, and flew with the new president to Washington. He then became the first "special assistant" to Johnson's White House and lived in the White House for the first two months of Johnson's presidency.

Valenti later called Johnson "the most single dominating human being that I've ever been in contact with" and "the single most intelligent man I've ever known". In a speech before the American Advertising Federation in 1965, Valenti said: "I sleep each night a little better, a little more confidently, because Lyndon Johnson is my president."

Career in the MPAA

Jack Valenti (2000)
Jack Valenti (2000)

In 1966, Valenti, at the insistence of Universal Studios chief Lew Wasserman, and with Johnson's consent, resigned his White House commission and became the president of the Motion Picture Association of America. With Valenti's arrival in Hollywood, the pair were lifelong allies, and together orchestrated and controlled how Hollywood would conduct business for the next several decades.

After retirement from the MPAA, he became involved in technology-related venture capital activities, such as joining the Advisory Board of Legend Ventures where he advised on media investment opportunities. He also remained a supporter of causes linked to his Italian American heritage and was a member of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) for more than 20 years.

Death

Arlington National Cemetery Seal
Arlington National Cemetery Seal

He died on April 26, 2007, at his home in Washington from stroke complications. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery under a veteran's gravestone, which lists both his war decorations and his years as president of the MPAA.

Following his death, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) launched the NIAF Jack Valenti Institute, which provides support to Italian American film students, in his memory. Director Martin Scorsese launched the institute at the Foundation's 32nd Anniversary Gala, after receiving an award from Mary Margaret Valenti.

Legacy

His memoirs This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House and Hollywood were published on May 15, 2007, only a few weeks after his death.

Honors

Defense.gov News Photo 001130-D-2987S-228
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left) presents the first Citizen Patriot Award to Jack Valenti

Valenti received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his service with the Army Air Force during the Second World War. In 1969, Jack Valenti received the Bronze Medallion, New York City's highest civilian honor. In 1985, Jack Valenti received the French Légion d'Honneur.

In 2002, the University of Houston bestowed Valenti an honorary doctorate.

In December 2003, Valenti received the "Legend in Leadership Award" from the Chief Executive Leadership Institute of the Yale School of Management.

In June 2005, the Washington DC headquarters of the Motion Picture Association of America, was renamed the Jack Valenti Building. It is located at 888 16th St. NW, Washington DC, very close to the White House. Jack Valenti maintained an office on the 8th floor, outside the MPAA's space, until his death.

In April 2008, the University of Houston renamed its School of Communication to the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication in his honor. Valenti was one of the school's notable alumni.

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