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Honor Befits Valenti, a Washington Fixture

June 23, 2005|Steven Bodzin | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — At age 83, Jack Valenti finally got top billing.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America on Wednesday named its eight-story downtown headquarters after the man who served as Hollywood's top lobbyist for 38 years.

A ceremony was held at a breakfast packed with the studio chiefs he used to answer to and the legislators whose arms the genteel Texan deftly twisted until he retired last year.

Valenti told the audience that he appreciated the organization "doing this while I'm still alive."

A Lyndon Johnson protege, Valenti left Johnson's White House to join the MPAA in 1966, a date commemorated in the last four digits of the trade group's phone number. Valenti was succeeded by Dan Glickman, a former Agriculture secretary and congressman.

Valenti's connection with elected officials was evident as he addressed many who became longtime friends. VIPs included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sens. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii).

"It's seldom that you form friendships in the early years and find them staunch and sustaining and enduring over the long years," Valenti said.

Stevens noted the ease with which Valenti worked Democrats and Republicans alike.

"Both sides of the aisle recognize the fact that you didn't recognize the aisle," Stevens said.

The loquacious Valenti showed his lobbying skills haven't gathered rust in retirement. At the end of his speech, he proclaimed that movies are "America's greatest export and deserve to be protected."

He paused and then added, "See? I've been doing this so long I can't stop."

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