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A New Lobbyist to Represent Hollywood ... Why They Need One

Thomas Doherty, in the Boston Globe (July 8 2004):

LAST WEEK Dan Glickman, former secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration, was appointed to replace Jack Valenti as president of the Motion Picture Association of America. Not exactly a high-profile player in either Washington or Hollywood, Glickman was an unexpected choice. More interesting, though, the selection broke with an unspoken Hollywood tradition. Glickman is Jewish, and for more than 80 years the job description for the Motion Picture Association presidency has read: Only politically connected Christians of unassailable moral character need apply.

Ever since its formation in 1922, when a series of made-for-tabloid overdoses, orgies, and murders seemed to confirm suspicions that the main business of Hollywood was to corrupt the fiber of Anglo-Protestant America, the association has chosen men of a certain type to catch the flak and take the heat.

Besieged studio moguls first turned to Will H. Hays, former postmaster general in the administration of Warren G. Harding. Hays was the perfect front man for a disreputable industry dominated by foreign-born Jews: a nondrinking, non-smoking Presbyterian church elder from Indiana who uttered platitudes with a straight face.

Making good on a promise to bring virtue to the Sodom on the Pacific, he gave his name to the Hays Office (formally the Production Code Administration), the censorship agency that kept the American screen free of cleavage and controversy. Under Hays, Hollywood enjoyed a golden age that glittered throughout the Great Depression and World War II.

In 1945 the Motion Picture Association opted for an organization man more in tune with the postwar ethos. The urbane and energetic Eric Johnston, former president of the Chamber of Commerce, had the advantage of being both cosmopolitan and Episcopalian. Unfortunately, he was fated to confront a trio of threats more ominous than bluenose censorship: the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the Department of Justice, and, worst of all, television.

In the wake of the 1947 House hearings on alleged Soviet subversion in the motion picture industry, Johnston inaugurated the blacklist era by pledging, on behalf of the major studios, never to"knowingly employ a communist."

The next year another branch of the government delivered a more crippling blow by demanding that the studios divest their theater chains, thereby destroying the vertically integrated monopoly that had sustained the classic studio system.

As for television -- you know that story. In 1963 Johnston died and the association scrambled to find a permanent successor. After a prolonged search, the organization settled on Valenti, a former adviser to Lyndon Johnson and a Roman Catholic. He took the reins at a pivotal moment. Television was ascendent, the studios were moribund, and the baby boom generation was deserting the movies in droves....