Tauzin Says No to a Big Movie Role

Times Staff Writer

Hollywood lost its top candidate to replace its chief lobbyist, Jack Valenti, as Rep. Billy Tauzin rejected the movie-industry job after receiving a lucrative, eleventh-hour offer to represent major drug companies, it was confirmed Friday.

The development deals a setback to the film studios’ efforts to replace Valenti, who has said he wants to find a successor after 38 years as head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. Valenti, 82, had hoped to announce who would fill his shoes as early as this month.

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) also have surfaced as potential replacements.


But Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican who influenced media issues as head of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was the clear front-runner -- and some studio executives had viewed his hiring as a fait accompli.

Valenti released a statement Friday saying Tauzin called him Thursday night to tell him he was declining a bid for his services that had been made by the MPAA. Valenti said Tauzin told him “that he was given a very, very generous offer from another enterprise.”

Neither the MPAA nor Tauzin’s office identified the group. But several sources said it was the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents major drug companies such as Merck & Co. and Johnson & Johnson.

The pharmaceutical group, the sources said, offered Tauzin far more than the $1 million-plus annual salary that the MPAA job has paid Valenti.

Tauzin’s spokesman, Ken Johnson, confirmed that the MPAA had made “a very flattering offer” to Tauzin. “It was a difficult to say no,” Johnson said. “Billy has a great reverence for Jack Valenti, and they are great friends as well. At this point in his life, he did not believe this was the best fit for him and his family.”

Johnson stressed Friday that Tauzin hadn’t yet accepted the drug industry job. “Just as there was no deal with the MPAA,” he said, “there is no deal now with PhRMA either.”

Sources said Tauzin would find it difficult to reject the drug industry offer, however. They said he planned this weekend to discuss with his family and friends whether to take the job or remain in Congress. The offer coincides with an announcement by PhRMA this week that its president, Alan Holmer, would retire after a successor was found.

Sources among the major studios said Tauzin had been demanding from the MPAA a rich package with numerous perks, including at one point an apartment in New York, country club membership and fees for the lawyers who negotiated for him.

Johnson wouldn’t confirm those details. But he said: “When someone makes you an offer, you either accept it or you don’t. Billy turned it down. It’s that simple. It’s a free marketplace.”

Finding a successor to Valenti could take time. The seven studios that belong to the trade group must agree on a replacement for the retiring lobbyist. Meanwhile, Valenti would like to retain the largely ceremonial title of chairman of the MPAA as well as continue to oversee the film-rating system that he developed.

Moreover, filling the job may be complicated by changes in the corporate landscape since Valenti was hired in 1966. Today’s studios are no longer independent film factories, but part of large media conglomerates that often are in different businesses with conflicting agendas.

Valenti was recruited to join the MPAA after serving as one of President Lyndon Johnson’s top White House aides. Besides creating the industry’s film-rating system, he has dealt with international trade issues over the years as the movie business has become more global.

Most recently, Valenti has led Hollywood’s efforts to battle piracy, including taking the controversial step of restricting the distribution of so-called screeners sent out by studios to promote films for awards.