One must be a very dedicated movie or Jack Valenti watcher to plough all the way through this tome. Apart from the timing which cannot be faulted – he died shortly after the book was published: the book is more a diary than a literary work. Except for the opening chapter on the assignation of JFK, which is good and compelling writing, the remainder stretched incredulity a little too far. If we are to believe what Mr Valenti tells us about himself, we should not be surprised that at the books completion, the Almighty whisked him off to heaven to be at his right hand. A more Saintly man never lived beyond the Vatican.
We learn that he started life very poor – not even any shoes. We also learn that his close relatives were very rich. That confused me. I thought these old Sicilian families stuck together. Or is that only the Mafia? One of these relatives who did not feel able to buy little Jack any shoes, did give him a job. The salary was not sufficient for the future $1.3 million a year boss of MPAA, so he lied to take the time off to solicit work at Humble Oil which was successful. Little Jack clearly had a talent for ingratiating himself into the affections of those who could help him. First it was the HR lady who gave him his first job at Humble. Then it was the head of the advertising department who put him to work there. Work: I use the word loosely as he seems to have spent his time travelling around the country keeping his boss from being lonely. He must have been a very seductive little chap.
Then the war intervened. Now I thought, this is where it gets interesting. He reminds us frequently that he was a war hero, so was very keen to learn more. Unfortunately modesty prevented him from sharing with us any daring-do that he was involved in. Other than telling us that the Luftwaffe fighters held no terrors for him – indeed, he actually says that they were no problem to him. Well that’s a first. I must have more than 30 books on WWII aerial combat, and I never read that before. Could it be that all the others were spoofing? We do learn at great length his mile by mile journey back to America from Italy. The war was over by this time, but low cloud and rain was more formidable than the Luftwaffe it seems.
Once back to civilian life, he takes advantage of the GI Bill and goes to Harvard. If he goes on about his time at Harvard to his everyday listeners as he does in his book, there can be few American who don’t know that Jack Valenti went to Harvard. Upon completion of his course he goes back to Humble Oil. This is the second time they have him back. He learns as much as he can from them, sets up a company with a partner and promptly leaves Humble Oil. Using what he learnt from Humble he solicits business from Humble competitors. This is a life long habit of Jack’s. He ingratiates himself with people until they are of no more value; then he drops them. He did it with his business partnerWeekley when he went with President Johnson. Then it was Johnson's turn to be droppedafter he learnt that the Presidentwas not going to seek re-election. He would have done it to MPAA and gone to Columbia Pictures, but his devoted wife of God knows how many years wouldn’t go to Los Angeles with him. Washington was more important than Jack it seems. She did offer to let him commute once a week from DC to LA.
It is at this point in the book that one loses the will to live. It becomes a page after page catalogue of the rich and famous who Jack loved deeply, and they him. Pick at random any Name from the A List, and they – and of course their gorgeous spouses, were close personal friends of the Valenti’s. There is not an enemy in sight – he even had a good word for the Luftwaffe! But then this is a work more interesting for what it doesn’t say than for what it does. He never mentions that he lead a crusade to prevent VCRs being introduced into America. He takes full credit for the ‘original’ introduction of a film rating system. He expects the readers not to notice that the British Board of Film Censors has been rating movies since 1912. It is also interesting that Jack never ever mentions the British film industry. He mentions, and praises British actors and directors, but never identifies them as such. He does every other country that has a film industry. Perhaps under the overcast skies of grey old London lurk a few skeletons that Jack would prefer to keep in the cupboard.
After one has waded through pages and pages of Hollywood’s ‘Who’s Who’, the book is completed with the unsurprising information that all of his three children are ‘…movie star beautiful, and they are all outstandingly successful.’ No kidding. He even tells us that his grandchildren are perfect.
Jack Valent’s life story could have been an enthralling read had it been an ‘unauthorised version’ by Kitty Kelly or similar. Instead, it is a very boring exercise in self aggrandisement. It is said that before one writes a book, one should identify your audience. The only audience for this book is the Hollywood Hoorays who will enjoy what is written about themselves, and think kindly about Jack – and of course his children.
Well done Jack. Not so much a book, more an advertising brochure for the Valenti dynasty.