Since beginning this blog I have been waiting for the right time to recognize Jack Valenti. There is a sentimental background to this posting as I was one of those incidental folks who worked with him tangentially on some media events. I mention that only to allow me to say that Jack Valenti made every individual he touched feel special. In Jack’s world no one was ” incidental.” His respect for all individuals was a basic tenet of his success.
Oscar week is the perfect time to remember his memoir This Time, This Place, My Life in War, the White House and Hollywood. His last most prominent professional position was as the legendary CEO of The Motion Picture Association of America. Jack Valenti died in 2007, the very year that this memoir was published.
Jack Valenti grew up poor in Texas, put himself through school delivering groceries, graduated from Harvard and joined the Army Air Corps in World War Two. He flew 52 combat missions as the pilot of a B-25 attack bomber based in Italy.
Upon his return, Valenti formed a small advertising and public relations agency in Houston and as fate would have it then Vice-President Lyndon Johnson heard about this bright young man and in the summer of 1963 secured his services as an advance man for the Kennedy-Johnson 1964 campaign. Valenti was in the Dallas motorcade on that fateful November day, and flew to Washington on Air Force One to remain at now President Johnson’s side. He became Special Assistant to President Johnson and served as his most trusted confidant.
The stories that Valenti recalls in his memoir are historically revealing and personally insightful, including LBJ’s reaction when Jack announced he was quitting to take the job at the MPAA!
As MPAA CEO Valenti transitioned into the Hollywood circles with the deftness of the master politician that he was. He accomplished his goals in those treacherous ego filled waters because he was good, trusted and loved. You will travel with Jack , in his element, among the moguls, stars and starlets of Hollywood. The stories are wonderful. He star is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I can not recommend more highly this well written and fascinating look at a great American story with all the elements of the child of emigrants working his way to navigate and thrive in the highest levels of the land. It is if course also a special and unique look inside the Johnson Presidency.
If you are one who is fascinated by the persona of LBJ there is one other great book that must be mentioned here, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and The American Dream.
These are not ” text-book reads” they are fascinating page turners with characters and personalities as good as in the best novel!