Monitor Breakfast

Selected quotations from a Monitor Breakfast with Jack Valenti, Chairman, Motion Picture Association of America

Jack Valenti is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, a position he has held for 36 years.

Only four members of the United States Senate (Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd, Edward Kennedy, and Daniel Inouye), and the Monitor's own Godfrey Sperling have been on the job longer.

He is a graduate of Harvard Business School and the University of Houston, where he delivered this year's commencement address.

Mr. Valenti came to Washington in November, 1963, to help his friend Lyndon Johnson as he assumed the presidency after the assassination of John Kennedy. Mr. Valenti lived in the Johnson's residence, the Elms, and later at the White House.

Mr. Valenti's wife, Mary Margaret, was LBJ's personal secretary. By the time Mr. Valenti's daughter Courtenay was four months old, she was receiving visits and calls from the President.

Mr. Valenti's son John is currently featured in the new HBO movie about President Johnson entitled "Path to War," in which he plays the role of Jack Valenti.

On efforts to draft laws to prevent movies from being stolen using the Internet:

"If you give people a legal alternative to watch a movie [online] at a really fair and reasonable price, they are not going to steal it."

On whether movies make the US look bad overseas:

"You can't indict the entire motion picture industry. Last year we produced in this country close to 700 movies. There are some of them I wouldn't defend if my life and career depended on it. Some movies are so bad you have to subpoena people to get them to the theater. So all movies are not good, but all movies aren't bad. That is the first point.

The second point is that people in the world go see American movies. They like them. They think they are terrific.... I think that in the end, it is the free spirit of the American movie that indelibly makes its imprint on the consciousness of most people in the world."

On why movie theaters will survive in a digital age:

"I don't believe that people want to be umbilically connected to an electronic box seven nights a week. They just don't want to do it. Most people go to the movies for a social experience.

I've got every gadget known to man plus a private theater. Weekends, my wife and I go to the movie theater because that is the way you want to see a movie.... People want to get out, they want to have fun, they want to go see movies and I am very optimistic."

On "Master of the Senate," Robert Caro's new book about LBJ:

"What he is doing is the definitive biography of Lyndon Johnson by all odds. The thing that bewilders me, causes my credulity to be strained, is why would a man want to spend 30 years of his life writing about a fellow he so thoroughly despises or doesn't like?

...Every time he has a thin patina of praise, the next paragraph says, "but on the other hand" and he wants to give you the dark underside of Johnson.

He was a man of immense, persistent contradictions. But he was the most formidable political leader I have ever known or ever will know, and I have known them all. Johnson had convictions."

On his memories of Lady Bird Johnson:

"I found her to be unfeigned. She was never on stage. The way she was with her family was the way she would be if she sat at the table with you here. There were no pretensions, no imperial air. She was a woman of uncommon dignity. There is this southern courtliness in her.

She was an anchor to LBJ. In my judgment, without her he would have been crippled, severely crippled. I am not quite sure that he could have climbed the greasy pole as he did without her. I don't think he would have done it.

She was a remarkable woman. She didn't have speechwriters. She speaks in language that was vivid. She can talk about a sunrise in ways that I have never heard it described that way before."

On his proudest accomplishment:

"My proudest accomplishment in the movie business is I survived. And believe me, that is not an inconsiderable asset in the business I am in.

I think the other thing that I am proudest of is we made great strides in making sure the American movie can move freely and unhobbled around the world.

I think the fact that we have grown with such celerity over the past two or three decades into every country in the world – there is only about three or four countries we don't do business with – and wherever we exhibit our films, we dominate. People love our films.

The one thing that set the movie industry really free was when I junked the old Hayes [rating] code which was blatant and absolutely confirmable censorship and invented the movie rating system. We set the industry free. Today, no one has to cut one frame of his film if he doesn't choose to or if he doesn't have some contractual obligations. Nothing lasts that long in this explosive and volatile marketplace unless it is providing some kind of a benefit to people that it aims to serve."

On how long he plans to stay at the Motion Picture Association:

"...As long as I can work a 14- or 15-hour day without collapsing, as long as it is fun, exciting, and challenging – and it is, and so long as the people in the movie industry are not unhappy with what I do, I am going to be here.

I am not looking at the calendar and I am not looking at birthdays....

This is the most fun I can think of. I have had a lot of offers to do other things. I am not looking to make any more money. I am just looking to have fun. And right now this is a fun job. A lot of people in Hollywood are crazy and wacky and off-the-wall. None of them are dull and I count dullness as one sin for which there is no expiation. So yeah, I am here and I am going to be here for a while."

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