WASHINGTON — At first glance, Dan Glickman may not look the part to succeed Jack Valenti as Hollywood’s leading man in Washington.
He’s certainly not straight out of Central Casting. The balding, slightly pudgy former congressman from Kansas has never been known for his pizzazz or sartorial splendor.
As a moderate Democrat who served six years as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration, Glickman appears more suited to discussing the finer points of international wheat prices than to mixing with stars at the Oscars. In fact, the Kansas City Star recently acknowledged he oozes “zhlubbiness,” before going on to sing his praises and tout his credentials for the glitzy MPAA post.
At the press conference announcing Glickman’s selection, Valenti showed up in his trademark pinstripes, pink shirt and boots, while Glickman chose a dark suit and tie that would blend into any Beltway crowd. The only hint of his celebrated sense of humor and celebratory mood was his tie, which contained a pattern of beer bottles — visible only from close up.
Glickman’s serious, plain-spoken statements at the press conference also stood in stark contrast to Valenti’s florid elocution.
At ease in the limelight, Valenti emerged from behind a screened-off section of the room first and introduced Glickman with a wave of his hand and a showbiz flourish. “This is the last bit of my theatrics,” Valenti noted with a twinkle in his eyes as Glickman approached the podium to assume the MPAA mantle and take questions.
Glickman was deferential as Valenti jumped in to answer the first question. He later called the outgoing showbiz icon a “legend” and stressed that he was succeeding, not replacing, Valenti.
Diverse taste in movies
But Glickman is no stranger to Hollywood. He has lobbied for Disney, and his son, Jonathan Glickman, is the president of Spyglass Entertainment and helped produce such pics as “Grosse Point Blank,” the “Rush Hour” films and “Shanghai Noon.” Dan Glickman professes to love movies and recited a diverse laundry list of his favorites: “The Godfather” and “The Godfather, Part II,” “Animal House” (“because I was in an fraternity at the U. of Michigan that was the animal house”), “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Schindler’s List,” “Trading Places” and “Risky Business,” as well as “anything with Jack Nicholson in it,” to name just a few.
As the U.S.’ former ambassador of wheat and cattle, Glickman is also at ease negotiating international trade deals and traveling around the world seeking concessions from countries such as China, where piracy flourishes.
Other, flashier studio choices for the job, such as Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), had expressed a reluctance to spend a good chunk of time traveling to other nations to scold them for their failure to combat piracy and implore them to do more. When the studios approached, Breaux begged off, as did Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), after months of negotiations.
Another point to consider: Entertainment has recently supplanted food as this country’s greatest export. And, after two stinging rejections, Glickman’s low-key demeanor and genuine excitement about his new post must be refreshing for the studios.
Glickman was eager to take the job so the studios likely did not need to dig deep in their pockets to come up with more than the $1.35 million-plus base salary Valenti received last year to sweeten the deal. Some knowledeable sources said the compensation was actually less than Valenti’s last salary.
At the press conference, Glickman called his new salary “comfortable,” and Valenti noted that it did not rank in the top five chief exec compensation packages for trade orgs.
No major shakeups
Glickman made clear he is not going to start the job by ruffling feathers. He has no current plans to “clean house” or make any major or minor changes to the staff or structure of the MPAA.
“I’ve never been a bomb-thrower,” Glickman insisted. “My style is very much of a collaborative, consensus style.”
During his time in Congress, the former lawyer sat on the Copyright and Intellectual Property subcommittee of the Judiciary panel and had his finger on the pulse of critical international issues while chairing the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
At the press conference, Glickman also cast himself as a man who can work across the aisle with Republicans. “At the USDA, whenever I got a message to call the White House and Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), I always called the senators first,” he noted.
It can’t hurt that he was one of only a few Democratic lawmakers in the GOP-dominated Kansas congressional delegation. He counts as friends the state’s GOP senators, Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, the latter a vocal Hollywood critic and the main author of a bill boosting fines for broadcast indecency violations.
Even so, his selection surprised many Beltway types who had been playing the Valenti succession parlor game for nearly a year. Detractors noted Glickman lost his congressional seat when Republicans won control of the Congress in 1994 and dismissed his personality as “milquetoast.”
Republicans insiders in Washington were clearly rankled that the MPAA did not tap one of their own for the job. In the last few years, Republicans such as Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and GOP strategist and tax-slashing advocate Grover Norquist have pushed top trade orgs to hire Republicans. The GOP recruiting campaign has become known as the “K Street Project,” a reference to the upscale business section of the city where many lobbyists have offices.
“Don’t expect us to throw open our doors,” one GOP insider warned.
But with the race for the White House looking tight, the GOP dissent has less impact now than it did six months ago.
The studios also must be relieved to have the matter finally settled, and Valenti seems happy to run interference with Republicans if that’s what it takes to make the transition run smoothly.
Glickman will be a “powerful, successful steward of the MPAA,” Valenti predicted without hesitation.