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A Hollywood Promoter on Both Coasts

Valenti further cemented their relationship in 1962 by marrying Johnson's personal secretary, Mary Margaret Wiley. She survives him, along with three children, Courtenay Valenti and John Valenti, both of Los Angeles, and Alexandra Valenti of Austin; a sister; and two grandchildren.

In November 1963, then-Vice President Johnson asked Jack Valenti to handle press relations during President John F. Kennedy's swing through Texas.

Valenti was in the presidential motorcade in downtown Dallas when Kennedy was fatally shot Nov. 22 and accompanied the newly sworn-in Johnson back to Washington that night on Air Force One. He appeared in the famous photograph showing Johnson taking the oath of office aboard the plane.

As president, Johnson brought Valenti to Washington in 1963 as his special assistant -- a vague position Valenti likened to a "roving linebacker." He was a presidential troubleshooter, speech editor and trusted deputy for confidential assignments. He was often the first non-family member to greet Johnson in the morning and the last to see him at night.

McPherson, who became Johnson's special counsel, said Valenti was "enormously valuable as an aide because he could do so much. He could talk to members of Congress, he could take a piece of leaden speechwriting by someone and turn it, maybe not into Churchillian prose, but something that had some zip to it. There was no one he felt too shy to talk to on behalf of Johnson."

Tom Johnson, a White House fellow during the Johnson administration who later held executive positions at the Los Angeles Times and CNN, said, "Lyndon Johnson had no chief of staff, but Jack was closest to it."

He said Valenti was "the primary note taker in virtually all of the most confidential meetings LBJ had with heads of state, members of Congress, governors and [National Security Council] meetings." He also was Johnson's liaison to the Catholic Church and arranged with utmost secrecy a meeting between the president and Pope Paul VI at the Vatican during a presidential world tour.

Yet Valenti was often described as Johnson's chief whipping post or "glorified valet," who loyally absorbed Johnson's foul-mouthed tantrums and such seemingly humiliating acts as Johnson using Valenti's lap as a footrest.

Despite such treatment, Valenti continued to describe Johnson in worshipful, often purple prose, as when he told a group of advertising industry leaders in 1965, "I sleep each night a little better, a little more confidently because Lyndon Johnson is my president."

Afterward, Washington Post political cartoonist Herblock drew Valenti as a slave being whipped into submission. All this brought Valenti the enduring image of a sycophant, political journalist Richard Rovere once wrote.

Valenti's closeness to Johnson was a top reason Lew Wasserman, president of MCA/Universal Studios and often called the most powerful man in Hollywood, pursued Valenti in 1966 to become MPAA president. Wasserman's empire had been a frequent target of Justice Department actions, and Valenti proved a valuable contact.

The polished Valenti remained the discreet Wasserman's frontman in Washington for decades. For his work, Valenti was among the best-paid trade group chief executives in Washington.

On the job, he was tireless yet always appeared impeccably tanned and suave. He logged hundreds of thousands of miles for his causes and at times had to confront foreign cultural ministries that used trade talks to limit or lambaste American film imports. In the early 1990s, he encouraged the MPAA to donate money to European film schools as a way of improving relations.

Videos are now among the top income sources for his client companies, but Valenti was paid for years to denounce what was then new technology. He memorably told a congressional panel in 1982, "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."

In the early 1980s, he successfully lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to prevent the repeal of long-standing financial-syndication rules. His actions allowed the movie industry to keep reaping billions of dollars from reruns. Until the rule was changed in the mid-1990s, television continued to be shut out of owning and syndicating the entertainment programs it aired.

Wasserman had also played an important role, having spoken directly to President Ronald Reagan, whose political rise he helped orchestrate in the 1950s.

When Valenti resigned from the MPAA in 2004, he was reportedly earning $1.35 million, and National Journal magazine ranked him the seventh-highest-paid trade group chief executive in Washington. His MPAA successor was Dan Glickman, a former U.S. congressman and President Bill Clinton's agriculture secretary.

Valenti contributed opinion pieces to newspapers and magazines such as Reader's Digest and the Atlantic Monthly. Among his books were "A Very Human President" (1975), about Johnson's White House years; "Speak Up With Confidence," a guide to public speaking (1982); and "Protect and Defend" (1992), a Washington-based political novel edited by former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In 2006, he wrote a memoir, "This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House and Hollywood."


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