D.C. insider and Clinton ally gets top MPAA post

Hollywood’s iconic emissary Jack Valenti is finally riding off into the sunset.

His replacement will be a mild-mannered congressman from Kansas.

After nearly four decades as prexy and CEO of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, Valenti named former Democratic congressman and secretary of agriculture Dan Glickman as his successor Thursday at a press conference at Washington’s Hay-Adams Hotel.

But the dynamic, white-maned showbiz ambassador has no plans to make his final curtain call any time soon. Instead, he will remain in charge of the movie rating system that he designed, implemented and shepherded for more than 30 years.

Glickman emerged as the frontrunner to succeed Valenti in recent weeks (Daily Variety, June 24), aided by his ties to Hollywood-friendly former President Bill Clinton.

Even so, Republicans in Washington were stunned the studios selected a Democrat at a time when the Grand Old Party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

“It would have made more sense if an industry dominated by Democrats chose a Republican to give it a little balance in Washington,” one influential GOP insider remarked.

In the final round of interviews, Glickman won out over former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke and PBS topper Pat Mitchell. It didn’t hurt that Clinton chatted up studio chiefs on his behalf, and serving as the chief spokeswoman for the early stages of the war in Iraq didn’t do any favors for Clarke in the Hollywood community.

The seven studio chiefs selected Glickman during a conference call last Thursday. A rep from Spencer Stuart called Glickman that evening to let him know the studio chiefs would be calling the next day. Fox/News Corp.’s Peter Chernin and Disney’s Robert Iger called Friday to offer him the job.

Studio heads, most of whom were on vacation for the July 4 holiday, were unavailable for comment on the appointment Thursday.

Valenti will stay on at the MPAA until Sept. 1, when Glickman will take the helm and assume all responsibilities associated with being Hollywood’s new leading man on the Potomac.

“It’s been a long run and a great adventure,” Valenti said Thursday. “I wake each morning eager to be about my chores. But all things have an ending. I will continue to supervise the voluntary rating system along with John Fithian,” president of the National Assn. of Theater Owners.

The selection of Glickman ends a rocky yearlong hunt for a successor conducted by the heads of the seven studios that comprise the MPAA. Executive search firm Spencer Stuart was brought in to assist 4½ months ago after Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) turned down a formal offer and Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) showed no interest in the glitzy post.

No political pressure

Valenti swears he has never felt any pressure to hire a Republican and notes that he came to the post after serving as a senior official in the Johnson administration.

“This is not a political job,” Valenti asserted. “I have friends on both sides of the aisle despite my background, and I think I’ve been pretty successful.”

Glickman served nearly two decades as a Democratic member of Congress from Kansas and later was secretary of agriculture during the Clinton administration. He has spent the last several years as director of the prestigious Institute of Politics at Harvard. His son, Jonathan Glickman, is a partner and president of Spyglass Entertainment.

The senior Glickman, however, is a mild-mannered, relatively unknown figure in Hollywood, with some insiders concerned that he may lack the requisite charisma for the high-profile post.

“I am honored to be succeeding –no one can replace — Jack Valenti,” Glickman said. “He is a legend and someone who brought the cinematic and creative communities’ issues to the forefront of national policy.”

Vet of bipartisanism

A moderate Democrat who at times worked with Republicans during his congressional tenure, Glickman pledged to “fight very hard for the industry” and “to stand up for free expression.”

Glickman also addressed the central issue of piracy, vowing to fight its growing threat on several fronts, and appeared at least willing to follow the music biz’s lead and begin suing movie fans who illegally download films online — a move the MPAA is expected to initiate this fall.

“There ought to be a multifaceted approach to dealing with piracy: enforcement, litigation and education,” Glickman said. “You’ve got to pursue them all.”

The biggest challenge Glickman will face is the threat of digital piracy, but he must also deal with the often-dueling interests of different studios as well as competing interests of cable TV and broadcast networks.

Glickman will also be forced to operate in a political climate more willing than ever to impose government regulation of free speech and expression.

His domain will be very different from that of Valenti, who became the MPAA’s top exec in 1966 after leaving his post as a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson.

Valenti is only the third person to head the MPAA since its founding in 1922, his tenure spanning the comings and goings of eight different presidents and several party upheavals in Congress. During this time, Valenti presided over dramatic transformations in the movie industry. In the late ’60s, the movie biz focused mainly on theatrical releases in this country and some TV programming.

Since then, films have achieved a global reach and entertainment giants and multinational congloms such as News Corp. and General Electric have gobbled up several studios, which are often in conflict with other media entities under the same corporate umbrella.

During his remarks, Valenti teared up only once, when he mentioned the contributions of his wife of 42 years, Mary Margaret.

“Thank you,” Valenti said, gesturing his wife, who was seated among the reporters. “It wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable or successful if you wouldn’t have been there raising our children when I was out globe-trotting and should have been there too,” he said.

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