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Jack Valenti: Killed by ‘Grindhouse’?

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Jack Valenti, longtime head of the Motion Picture Association of America, died yesterday of complications from a stroke. Valenti, who was 85, was a longtime aide and confidant to President Lyndon Johnson — he married one of Johnson’s secretaries and is in the background of the famous photo of Johnson taking the Oath of Office aboard Air Force One — and joined the MPAA in 1966. He’s most remembered for creating and maintaining the system of film ratings that still governs the motion-picture industry. Highlights from Valenti’s obituaries:

Best encapsulation of Valenti’s total devotion to the bosses in his life: “Valenti was in awe the moment he met [Lyndon Johnson]. Recalling that day during a Caltech appearance in 2003, Valenti said: ‘I was fascinated the way I’m fascinated by a hooded cobra or a silken panther on a hillside ready to spring. It was an animal magnetism I never got over.’” —James Bates, Los Angeles Times

Best description of Valenti’s oratorical style: “A voracious reader, he devoured everything by Macaulay, Churchill and Gibbon, and his speaking and writing style would mix his native twang with the rhetorical flourishes of his heroes in a brew of cliché, cornpone, compelling phrases and clunkers that one critic called ‘a kind of Texas baroque.’” —David Halbfinger, New York Times

Best-chosen example of that oratorical style: “The Lord only knows how many more conspiratorial badgers are out there burrowing into the entrails of Alice’s Nonsense Wonderland, ready to barter their gauzy and grotesque notions for gold in the publishing and movie marketplace.” —Richard Natale and Cynthia Littleton, Variety

Best example of Valenti’s knee-jerk Luddite tendencies: “Valenti’s stay at the MPAA was also marked by his colorful attacks on Sony’s Betamax VCR, which the MPAA feared would ruin the exhibition industry: In 1982, he told the House Judiciary Committee’s copyright subcommittee: ‘I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.’” —Brooks Boliek, Hollywood Reporter

Best speculation on actual cause of death: “News of his death earlier today at the age of 85 wasn’t a complete shock. He had a stroke in March, presumably when he realized they were giving Grindhouse an ‘R’ complete with Quentin’s melting penis.” —Moriarty, Ain’t It Cool News

Jack Valenti: Killed by ‘Grindhouse’?