Jack Valenti Guest-Stars on Capitol Hill as His Former Self

Times Staff Writer

Fifteen months after riding off into the sunset, Jack Valenti has made a temporary U-turn.

Hollywood’s former top lobbyist, who walked the halls of Congress for 38 years before retiring as head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America in 2004, is back working lawmakers in an effort to head off potential television and cable indecency sanctions.

Last week, Valenti, 84, resurfaced on Capitol Hill during a forum organized by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), where the former lobbyist, a Lyndon Johnson protege, sat next to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin.


Then, on Monday, Valenti organized a closed-door meeting of top television, studio and cable executives to discuss ways to improve the TV ratings system in the hopes of blunting calls for more federal regulations.

“All I’m trying to bring is some deep experience,” Valenti said in an interview. “The role I have in this is that of a facilitator.”

In his remarks on the Hill, the loquacious Texan spent well over the five minutes he was allotted to urge lawmakers to let the industry come up with its own solution. Otherwise, Valenti said, “You begin to torment and torture the 1st Amendment.”

Valenti was quick to downplay his second act as only a brief return. As father of the movie ratings system and as one of the architects of TV parental warnings, he has unparalleled expertise. But he made it clear that he does not want to upstage his successor, former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, with whom he cleared his efforts.

“Dan is in charge,” Valenti said.

Joseph McBride, a former Variety staffer who now is an assistant professor of cinema at San Francisco State University, said bringing Valenti out of retirement periodically was a smart move.

“Frankly, one of the things wrong with industry is that they throw away their old leaders too soon,” McBride said. “Valenti is a guy who knows how to push all the right buttons, and he’s a great talker.”