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Jack Valenti's Memoir

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The article below states that Valenti had a reputation of generally not speaking ill of anyone – but this was not the case when he orchestrated the campaign against Barr McClellan’s book on LBJ and forced the History Channel to withdraw its segment on LBJ in its JFK assassination series.

I am reminded in reading the article of a statement made at a legal education seminar I attended years ago. The speaker, an attorney who clients were among the rich and powerful, remarked that in drawing up their testamentary documents he found that his clients viewed “death as an outrageous inconvenience.” I have the impression that Valenti fell into this category.


June 7, 2007

Jack Valenti’s Memoir Suffers Without a Key Salesman


The New York Times


LOS ANGELES, June 6 — Jack Valenti’s death has created a marketing problem that would have challenged even him.

Mr. Valenti, a onetime Houston advertising man who became a confidant of President Lyndon B. Johnson and then, for nearly four decades, Hollywood’s spokesman as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, died on April 26, just weeks before the release of his new memoir. Now his publisher, Harmony Books, and his survivors are struggling to ensure that the autobiography gets a modicum of the attention it would have received had Mr. Valenti, a singular raconteur, been around to talk it up himself.

Shaye Areheart, vice president and publisher of Harmony, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, said she last saw Mr. Valenti in February, when the two met to go over a second set of revisions and plans for promoting the book, “This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House and Hollywood.”

“He was like a kid in a candy shop,” Ms. Areheart said of the 85-year-old Mr. Valenti. “We had so much lined up for him: the ‘Today’ show. Don Imus, before he fell from grace. Larry King. NPR. CBS and Fox News. Everyone was so drawn to Jack, and he had so many stories to tell.”

Mr. Valenti had arranged much of the publicity himself, Ms. Areheart said. “We mentioned ‘Regis and Kelly,’ and he said he’d call Regis Philbin. He said he’d contact Les Moonves, Bob Wright, Roger Ailes. He could make a phone call and get straight to the top.”

Mr. Valenti, the master networker, had also arranged to be celebrated by his friends among the rich and powerful at book parties in New York (given by Barry Diller), Washington (Dan Glickman, Mr. Valenti’s successor at the Motion Picture Association, and Franco Nuschese, owner of the Georgetown power spot Café Milano), and Los Angeles (Kirk Douglas, Mr. Valenti’s closest Hollywood friend, and Robert A. Day Jr., founder of Trust Company of the West).

But his death left Harmony in a costly, and awkward, bind. The book was the imprint’s lead summer title, with an initial printing of 100,000 copies, and Harmony had bought front-of-store display space in the major booksellers for the two weeks before Father’s Day. “We had an enormous investment in Jack,” Ms. Areheart said. She would not disclose what he had been paid, but called it a “significant advance.”

Harmony sought to capitalize on the coverage of Mr. Valenti’s death by shipping the book to retailers early, to go on sale May 15, three weeks before the scheduled on-sale date of June 5. Nielsen BookScan said only 1,000 copies had been sold through June 3 — a grim indication, since the first sales are often the strongest. (BookScan captures about 70 percent of book sales.) But confusion over the correct day to display the title could have made those early numbers less predictive, some industry executives speculated.

Many books are published posthumously of course, like David Halberstam’s book on the Korean War, due this fall. This is not the first time an author’s death has created a publisher’s nightmare: In 1992 Sam Walton, the billionaire founder of Wal-Mart, died after having signed a $4 million contract with Doubleday for his memoirs. And Virginia Clinton Kelley, President Clinton’s mother, died in 1994 four months before her memoir was to be published. Mr. Walton’s book, written with John Huey, became a best seller anyway; Ms. Kelley’s did not.

Mr. Valenti’s book recounts his bootstraps rise from modest means in Houston; his bombing runs as a World War II pilot; his place in the motorcade when President John F. Kennedy was shot; his close relationship with Johnson; and his tenure in Hollywood as a starry-eyed but fierce advocate. It includes little that is newsworthy — no salacious anecdotes or score-settling barbs, which comes as no surprise, given Mr. Valenti’s reputation for seldom speaking ill of anyone. What it had to grab attention, in a word, was him, and he’d promised to devote all of June and July to publicizing the book.

In his absence Ms. Areheart has been working with Mr. Valenti’s daughter, Courtenay, a movie executive at Warner Brothers, to line up surrogates from among her father’s friends in Washington and Hollywood, something she said was a welcome distraction from her own grieving. So far, a Harmony publicist said, “Today” has agreed to interview Ms. Valenti and her mother, Mary Margaret, and “Tavis Smiley” on PBS has invited Sherry Lansing, the former Paramount chairwoman, to talk about Mr. Valenti, but no other spots have been confirmed.

“It’s awkward,” Ms. Valenti said. “For a lot of these different outlets, it’s harder for them to make the show interesting. We know that talking to us is not what people want.” She added that no celebrity or politician would be able to do justice to the full sweep of her father’s life. “We’re all dealing with the reality that the best salesperson for the book was Daddy.”

Ms. Valenti, meanwhile, was able to prevail upon one very famous friend of her father’s, Michael Douglas, to stand in for him in the audio version of “This Time, This Place.” (Mr. Valenti suffered a stroke a week before he was to begin recording the audio version in March.)

“I’m in the movie business, so I know what it is to ask somebody to do something like that, knowing how busy he is, and how long it takes to do,” Ms. Valenti said. It took Mr. Douglas three days. “But Michael, without batting an eye, said: ‘Don’t give it another thought. I’ll do it immediately.’ ”

Ms. Areheart said she regretted allowing Mr. Valenti to delay publication several times as he dredged up fond memories and thought up new chapters. “I kept saying, ‘Jack, let it go,’ ” she said. If she’d only stuck to a March date, she said, “he’d have been able to enjoy it.”

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