Jack Valenti came to Columbus once, and I can’t say when, except that I was old enough to read the newspaper and Jim Rhodes was governor. Valenti was paying a call on Big Jim, and the Dispatch story about it said the secretaries were all a-twitter. Why? Valenti was a good-looking man, but he’s no Clooney, either. I think it was just that he knew Clooney, or the day’s Clooney-equivalent; he reflected the Glory of Hollywood, something rare in the Ohio governor’s office. Especially that governor.
(I’ve heard many stories about Rhodes’ boorishness, and I don’t know how many are true, but here’s one, reported by an eyewitness: The governor was meeting with the presidents of Ohio’s public universities, a group he was not inclined to think much of, education bein’ for lawyers and fags and so forth. This one spoke, and that one spoke, and then the president of Kent State chimed in, and Big Jim stood up and stepped over to his bathroom, which opened onto the office. “Keep talkin’!” he said. “I can hear ya fine!” As the KSU president went on, haltingly, the governor of the Buckeye State had a nice, long, relaxing pee. With the door open. He had issues with Kent State.)
Anyway, Valenti. I don’t recall what he was doing so far from Hollywood, but it had something to do with the industry. The obits said he was a b.s. artist without peer, with a Texas drawl :
In his many public utterances, he orated and declaimed, grandly and voluminously, as if addressing the Roman Senate about the urgency of conquering Gaul. A fan of Shakespeare and Yeats and Greek mythology, Valenti spoke in baroque phrases, filigreed and curlicued — all inflected with a slight Texas accent. From his tongue, an opponent’s proposal wasn’t merely unacceptable; it was “an arrow dipped in curare.” And as spun by him, America wasn’t just a great and fine nation; it was “a free and loving land.”
Some people found such verbiage pompous and smarmy, particularly since Valenti, who wrote all his own speeches, was usually talking about something relatively mundane, such as DVD piracy or runaway movie-production costs. Such lofty language would have been ridiculous — if it weren’t such a pleasure to hear a man so out of step with ordinary speechifying.
One had to marvel at the self-confidence it took to gather oneself before an illustrious audience and utter such preposterous phrases as “springing full-blown from the head of Zeus.” And the thing was, you never remembered what a rival had to say.
Well, that’s the lobbyist’s secret charm, isn’t it? Blow into town, get the secretaries all steamy, fill the governor’s ear with sweet nothings, and on to Washington or Cannes or wherever.
Personally, after hearing what some of the Democrats had to say last night, a reference to curare would be welcome. Where did great political oratory go? This is one reason I can’t dislike Jesse Jackson; the guy understands that a speech is, on some level, entertaiment, and he delivers.
Not much to deliver, today, and I apologize: I have a busy day before I blow out of town late this afternoon for a weekend “camping trip” with Kate’s Girl Scout troop. I call it “camping” because we sleep in bunk beds in a heated lodge, making the experience less woodsy and more like a weekend in a bad hotel. But there will be S’mores, and wine if I have anything to say about it.
Back after the weekend.