Jack cuts to the chase

Valenti: Hire my successor before election

Jack Valenti may be enjoying his long goodbye tour, but the Motion Picture Assn. of America topper would really like the studios to finally make it official.

In an interview Thursday, Valenti urged studio chiefs to wrap up work on finding his successor as soon as possible and avoid waiting until the results of the elections in November to decide whether to hire a Republican or a Democrat.

“I’ve got some other things I’m going to do,” the bionic 82-year-old told Daily Variety on Thursday. “To begin a new life that I haven’t lived before, you’ve got to get about it.”

The charismatic Hollywood icon, who for years was accused of holding onto the glitzy Washington post too tightly, would clearly like to relinquish the reins, practically pleading with the studios to make up their collective minds.

“I certainly hope this thing can be settled shortly,” he said, noting that he would stay true to a commitment to remain at the helm until a successor is named.

A friend in the Fight

But in some ways Valenti has already moved on, spending a significant amount of time working for his next employer, the Friends of the Global Fight. The group’s mission is supporting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the largest multibillion-dollar public/private effort aimed at curbing the spread of these diseases around the world.

Valenti has already spent so much time working for his new employer that the org felt compelled to announce Thursday that it’s hired him as prexy. He has, for example, lobbied lawmakers and even convinced Tom Hanks to narrate a documentary about the devastating impact of the pandemics on impoverished people worldwide.

In the last few weeks, the studios have invited several candidates out to Los Angeles to interview for the MPAA post, including former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, who now works as a lobbyist for Comcast; Dan Glickman, former agriculture secretary for the Clinton administration, who spent the last few years heading Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; and Pat Mitchell, who tops the Public Broadcasting System.

Despite the apparent progress, Valenti indicated that the studios would like to keep interviewing other candidates and have given him no firm timeframe on when they plan to make the hire.

Strategic pause?

The process of selecting a successor has sputtered along for so long that industry insiders are wondering if there’s a strategic reason for the delay. With the race for the White House narrowing in recent weeks and Democrats now in a slightly better position to win seats in Congress, some industry sources may have advised the studios to hold off from hiring a Republican in case John Kerry wins and Democrats gain more power on Capitol Hill.

But Valenti warned the studios Thursday about putting off a decision until after the elections. He recommended tapping a candidate who is “middle of the road.”

Valenti, who served as a top aide for Lyndon Johnson before taking the MPAA post, said he made no bones about being an “LBJ Democrat” but was still able to be an effective spokesman for the industry when Republican Richard Nixon won the White House.

“They should hire someone that is the best person they can find for the job without political affiliations,” he told Daily Variety. “Power passes, power changes. You can’t have someone different come in here every four years. You have to have the right person.”

Rarin’ to go

Valenti is clearly energized about his new humanitarian mission. He plans to launch a multimillion-dollar public relations effort to pump up the group’s fund-raising that will include screening the eight-minute doc in Hollywood, on Capitol Hill and in schools around the country. Valenti noted that he has no commitments from the studios about screening the film yet.

On Thursday night Valenti held a screening of the doc at the D.C. home of C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel in the first Bush administration. The guest list included such prominent pols as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

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