Stars and Pols See Jack Valenti Off to 'Holy-World'
In a funeral Mass that combined the glamour of Hollywood and the power of Washington, Jack Valenti was sent off yesterday to the "great screening room in the sky"-- his term for heaven. Yes, the man loved the movies.
More than 1,300 admirers of the legendary motion picture lobbyist and presidential adviser poured into the Cathedral of St. Matthew, including A-listers from both coasts: Directors Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese; actors Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones (a knockout in a form-fitting black suit and yellow drop diamond earrings), Robert Wagner and Sandra Bullock; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; senators Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Pat Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Ted Stevens; plus assorted studio heads and powerbrokers.
"He would have loved it," said Mary Margaret Valenti, his wife of 45 years. "Jack loved parties."
Valenti's farewell played out like a red-carpet premiere: Paparazzi snapped shots of VIPs emerging from an endless line of limos; guests greeted each other under the soaring arches of one of Washington's most beautiful churches; and Valenti's coffin, draped in ivory, moved slowly up the aisle -- followed by his family -- to the music of J.S. Bach.
"We look into the life of a man and see a motion picture," said Monsignor James Watkins, who called Valenti "a great star, a light," and referred to the great hereafter in his homily as "Holy-world."
Valenti loved words and speeches -- his own and others' -- and so the tributes were florid and heartfelt. Former chief of protocol Lloyd Hand called his friend of 50 years "devoted, loyal, wise and loving." Journalist Charles Bartlett praised his "Texas touch." Kirk Douglas said his old pal was the consummate networker, on Earth and probably in the hereafter: "When the time comes for me to be upstairs waiting for Saint Peter to see me, I expect Jack to find me and bring me to the Big Man."
Valenti completed his upcoming memoirs just before suffering a stroke in March. Publication was postponed because of his illness, but "This Time, This Place" will now be released next month, as originally planned. His son, John, read one of four excerpts during the 90-minute service chronicling Valenti's Houston boyhood, service in World War II, work for Lyndon Johnson, and four decades as the film industry's liaison to Washington.
The crowd (more VIPs: Ethel Kennedy, Donald Rumsfeld, Rep. John Dingell, entertainment execs Michael Eisner, Barry Diller and Howard Stringer, Mike and Chris Wallace, Ted Koppel) spilled out onto the steps of the cathedral as the hearse pulled away with sirens and police escort -- a little showy, said Mary Margaret, but she added that her husband would have gotten a kick out of it. Then everyone headed to the Ritz-Carlton for a reception and a chance to network.
The consensus was that the diminutive charmer had a unique ability to develop and keep friends -- especially the complicated egomaniacs who dominate politics and moviemaking. His life, said Spielberg, was like a Frank Capra script: "When he believed in you, he stood up for you to the point that you'd be looking up at him," he said. "He never had a disparaging word to say about anybody."
"If you need a sentence for a speech, you'd call Jack," Eisner said. "He'd give you four to choose from. Nobody spoke like him."
"I loved him," said Wagner simply. "He was always there for me."
Valenti, a decorated veteran, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery next Wednesday.
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