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Valenti: 'A Giant Voice of Reason'

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, "Jindabyne" is rated R, one of the ratings that commercial films have carried since 1968. The man responsible for that rating system, Jack Valenti, has died.

Mr. JACK VALENTI (Former MPAA President): Some of these movies, they just turn my stomach, and I don't want to watch them. But I have a right not to watch them.

INSKEEP: Valenti's goal was to make it easier for parents to know what their kids might see. He was a former aide to President John F. Kennedy who was in the motorcade in Dallas when Kennedy was shot.

Mr. VALENTI: If I had to give you a four-word capsule summary of that day, it would be from one of the Yeats's poems in which he said the ceremony of innocence is drowned.

INSKEEP: Valenti later left the government to lead the Motion Picture Association of America. Hollywood had avoided government censorship by censoring movies itself. By the 1960s, movies were becoming more racy and the industry held off protests with the ratings system. That dismayed some filmmakers who might have to change their movies to get the proper rating or risk failure.

Mr. VALENTI: It is very difficult to tell a director to take a scene out of his picture if he doesn't want to do it, because he says I have a right to tell my story, and I agree they have a right.

INSKEEP: But Valenti insisted parents had a right to know what their kids might see. He was criticized over the years for being tougher on sex than on violence, but after his death of complications from a stroke at age 85, the director Steven Spielberg called Jack Valenti a giant voice of reason. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.