Hollywood's New Guardian

Article excerpt

Can Jack Valenti's successor, Dan Glickman, lead the battle against piracy of movies? BY JOSHUA CHAFFIN

When Dan Glickman was named head of the Motion Picture Association of America last year, the most glamorous lobbying post in Washington, he cited his experience running the Department of Agriculture as a prime credential for his new job.

Serving as the public salesman for American beef may have grounded Glickman in the complexities of international trade. Yet it can scarcely have prepared him for the raging bulls of Hollywood's biggest film studios. It is not yet clear whether Glickman, a mild-mannered Midwesterner, will tame his new bosses or be trampled by them. Already, there have been whispers of frustration that the new appointee has been slow to grab hold of the piracy issue, the studios' biggest priority, and move it to the top of the agenda in Washington.

Glickman's supporters argue that he has had the unenviable task of taking over a lobbying group that was led by one larger-than-life figure, Jack Valenti, for more than 30 years. They point to the need to change the MPAA from a cult of Valenti to a legitimate political organization.

They applaud Glickman for holding regular board meetings, which Valenti failed to do during his last five years in office, submitting detailed budgets and undertaking long-range planning. "Jack was a great ambassador, but he wasn't the most organized guy," one studio chief says. "Dan's very organized. He's very up-to-date and he tells you exactly what's going on."

Glickman, whose son is a film producer, was not the top choice for the job. The studio heads first set their sights on two legislators with more star power: Billy Tauzin, a congressman, and John Breaux, a senator.

When Glickman emerged, the chief criticism was that he was no Valenti, whose charisma conveyed the magic of the movies. Glickman, by contrast, is a lawyer who tends to refer to movies as Hollywood's "work product."

He has taken over the job at a critical time; in addition to the usual tax and trade challenges, Hollywood executives are nervously watching a piracy epidemic that has already devastated their counterparts in the music industry. The MPAA estimates that the problem cost the industry $3.5 billion last year.

If that were not enough, the gap between Hollywood and Washington appears to have widened. While troops of film stars campaigned ardently for John Kerry last year, George W. Bush and his allies railed against "Hollywood values," casting Tinseltown as a modern-day Sodom. "Politically, we still have to deal with the fact that there are folks who don't like Hollywood," says Glickman. "But they like movies. And one of my jobs is to help brand the industry in a more positive way."

That has not been easy for a Democrat in Republican Washington. In fact, when Tom Delay and the Republicans in Congress stripped more than $1 billion in studio tax credits from last year's tax bill, many saw it as a punishment for Glickman's appointment. Since then, Glickman has gone out of his way to reach across the aisle. Earlier this year, he hired the former spokesperson for Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, and hosted a fund-raising breakfast with the Illinois congressman.

He has taken to quoting a passage from Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech at the Republican convention about how movies were his window onto America as a youth in Austria. He also sends a steady stream of films to the White House for Bush and his wife. …