CEO, Motion Picture Association of America
Thursday, April 3, 1997 · Evans Auditorium · 2 p.m.
Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Jack Valenti has led several lives as a wartime bomber pilot, advertising agency founder, political consultant, White House special assistant and movie industry leader.
In his role as chairman and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, Valenti presided over a world of change, which radically affected the landscape of American film and television both here and abroad.
Born in Houston, Valenti was the youngest (age 15) high school graduate in the city. He began work as a 16-year-old office boy with the Humble Oil Company (now Exxon). A decorated war hero, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with four clusters, the Distinguished Unit Citation with one cluster and the European Theater Ribbon with four battle stars while serving as a fighter pilot in Italy during World War II.
He earned his bachelor's degree while attending night school at the University of Houston and his master of business administration degree from Harvard University. In 1952, he co-founded the advertising/political consulting agency of Weekley and Valenti, which was in charge of press coverage during the fateful Texas visit of President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson in November 1963. Within an hour of Kennedy's murder, Valenti was on Air Force One flying back to Washington as the newly hired special assistant to President Johnson.
On June 1, 1966, Valenti resigned his White House post to become only the third person ever to head the MPA. A published author, Valenti's work includes the political novel Protect and Defend. He has also written numerous essays for several national publications. France has conferred on him its cherished Legion d'Honneur, the French Legion ofHonor. He also has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
—Adapted from the original event program distributed at Jack Valenti's LBJ Distinguished Lecture
“As one who has spent his entire adult career in two of life’s classic fascinations — politics and movies — I have known in both those worlds the great, the near great and those who thought they were great.”
“I have become convinced that movie people and politicians spring from the same DNA: They are both unpredictable, sometimes glamorous, usually in crisis (imagined or otherwise), addicted to power, anxious to please, always on stage, hooked on applause, enticed by publicity, always reading from scripts written by someone else, constantly taking the public pulse, never really certain, except publicly.”
“I have learned that no man or woman is indispensable. Aboard Air Force One on that day, I watched as there occurred a unique celebration of the country’s molecular roots: the peaceful transfer of the most awesome power known on this planet. In a brief oath inhabited by plain, simple words specified in the Constitution and sworn to by every president since George Washington spoke them in the birth year of the Republic, the president’s power, duties and obligations are passed, peacefully, from one national leader to the next. It is a magnificent, and perhaps even divine, continuity.”
“I learned that while the light in the White House may flicker, the light in the White House never, never, goes out. The nation’s frame is invariably firm. The nation’s journey is never interrupted. The nation’s spirit is always intact.”
“I learned that most people vote for a president viscerally, not intellectually. Most people choose a president romantically, a choice made in unfathomable ways, which is how romance is formed.”