Texas born, Harvard educated, Jack Valenti has led several lives; a wartime bomber pilot, advertising agency founder, political consultant, White House Special Assistant, movie industry leader. In his current role as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, Valenti has presided over a worldwide sea change in the industry, which has radically changed the landscape of the American film and television industry here and abroad. It is Valenti's duty and challenge to lead the U.S. film and TV industry's confrontation with these global dangers and opportunities.
Born in Houston, Texas, Valenti was the youngest (age 15) high school graduate in the city. He began work a a 16-year-old office boy with the Humble Oil Company (now Exxon). As a young pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II, Lieutenant Valenti flew 51 combat missions as the pilot-commander of a B-25 attack bomber with the 12th Air Force in Italy. He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with four clusters, the Distinguished Unit Citation with one cluster, the European Theater Ribbon with four battle stars. He has a B.A. from the University of Houston (doing all his undergraduate work at night, working during the day). He graduated from Harvard with an M.B.A. In 1952, he co-founded the advertising/political consulting agency of Weekley & Valenti.
In 1955, he met the man who would have the largest impact on his life, the then Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Lyndon Johnson. Valenti's agency was in charge of the press during the visit of President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Johnson to Texas. Valenti was in the motorcade in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Within hours of the murder of John F. Kennedy, Valenti was on Air Force One flying back to Washington, the first newly hired special assistant to the new President. On June 1, 1966, Valenti resigned his White House post to become only the third man in MPAA history to become its leader.
Valenti has written four books, three non-fiction, The Bitter Taste Of Glory (World Publishing); A Very Human President (W. W. Norton Co.); Speak Up With Confidence (Wm. Morrow Co.); his newest book is a political novel, Protect Aand Defend (Doubleday, 1992). He has written numerous essays for the New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Reader's Digest, Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Cox newspapers and other publications. France awarded him its highly prized Legion d'Honneur, the French Legion of Honor. He has been awarded his own Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He and his wife, Mary Margaret Valenti, lived in Washington, though he spent half his time in Los Angeles. They had three children, Courtenay Valenti, John Valenti and Alexandra Valenti. He died from complications of a stroke in April 2007.
The School of Communication at the University of Houston will be named to honor the late Jack Valenti, adviser to President Lyndon Johnson and head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for nearly four decades. Valenti, who died last year at the age of 85, was born and raised in Houston and was a graduate of the University of Houston (1946).
Plans to change the name to the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication were announced today at the school’s annual scholarship banquet.“This is an important step to acknowledge Valenti’s longstanding association with the University of Houston and the city of Houston,” said Welcome W. Wilson Sr., chairman of the UH System Board of Regents. Wilson was both a longtime friend and former business partner of Valenti’s. “Jack was the greatest communicator that I have ever known,” Wilson said.
Valenti attended the University of Houston during the 1940s, working at Humble Oil during the day and pursuing his degree in business administration by taking evening classes. His enrollment was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as a B-25 pilot, but he returned to graduate in 1946. At UH, he worked on The Daily Cougar student newspaper and served as president of the Student Association and as vice chairman of Frontier Fiesta committee.
Following graduation, Valenti headed the UH alumni organization and was appointed to the first Board of Regents when UH became a state university in 1963. He was honored by UH with its Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1952 and with an honorary doctorate in 2002.
In his memoir This Time, This Place, Valenti wrote, “The day I enrolled in the University of Houston was the most exalted day of my life ... If there had been no UH, I don’t know what turn my life would have taken.”