No Kiss From Kate
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: March 19, 2011
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
When Chris Dodd accepted the job as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, he did not know the address of his new office, located just down the street from the White House.
“I discovered the address was 1600 I Street, and there was a time in my life when I had ambitions to have a 1600 address,” he says wryly. “But I missed by a block.”
Dodd, a 66-year-old former presidential candidate, throws back his head of gleaming white hair and laughs with gleaming white teeth. He started his job on St. Patrick’s Day, for luck, and on Friday, he’s still wearing a green tie.
“It’s like the first day of school,” he says as he admires the old movie posters on the wall — Alfred Hitchcock, James Dean and Bette Davis.
At first Dodd was unsure about becoming the Washington promoter for six major Hollywood studios because, as he told the McClatchy papers, “I’m not into the glitz.” His life now revolves around his wife, Jackie, and his two lovely young daughters, Grace and Christina.
He has already warned his daughters not to expect perks (like an early copy of the final Harry Potter movie). He told them, “Your friendships should be based on people liking you and not what you can bring along.”
Of course, as a Connecticut senator who was the son of a Connecticut senator, Dodd has had plenty of brushes with celebrity. He campaigned with Paul Simon and hung out with Paul Newman in Westport. He had a cameo in the political movie “Dave.” As a merry bachelor in the ’80s, he was linked to Bianca Jagger and Carrie Fisher.
He even ran into one of his most famous constituents, Katharine Hepburn, who lived out her life at her family home in Fenwick, on the mouth of the Connecticut River. He had stopped by the Fenwick house of a friend, Ellsworth Grant, Hepburn’s brother-in-law.
“I walk up the back step of his house and the door opens up, and Ellsworth and Katharine Hepburn are standing three feet away,” Dodd recalls. “And Ellsworth says to me in a very loud voice, ‘Would you like to meet Katharine Hepburn?’ and she’s not even glanced in my direction. So I say, ‘I’d be honored, delighted.’ And he says to her really loudly, ‘Katharine, do you want to meet Senator Dodd?’ And without ever looking at me, she goes, ‘Why?’ ”
He laughs. If he seems happy, it’s understandable. After 36 years in Congress, his final stretch in the Senate was not easy. As chairman of the Banking Committee, he was dealing with the financial crisis while shepherding Teddy Kennedy’s health care bill as his good friend was dying. In trouble with Connecticut voters for taking a V.I.P. home mortgage from Countrywide Financial, he didn’t seek re-election.
Dodd is legally not allowed to lobby Congress for 22 more months. “Aside from that,” he says, “I don’t think it necessarily involves a principal all the time.” He has lobbyists on his staff.
“Whatever else the world may think of us, they think we do a pretty good job at telling a story,” he says. “There’s probably someone around the world burning an American flag as we’re talking, and it wouldn’t be a shocking circumstance that once they’re finished demonstrating, they’ll go home tonight and they’ll probably watch an American movie.”
It’s a tough job in an era of digital looting — Dodd disdains the word piracy as too “romantic” — and studios enmeshed in the webs of multinational corporations predicted by Paddy Chayefsky in “Network.”
“The impression of the industry is sort of a gilded, tuxedo-wearing, red-carpet walking, movie-star, People magazine kind of thing,” Dodd says. “And the irony is, the automobile industry competes with each other once a year. These guys compete with each other every Friday night. The business model is nuts in many ways.”
Like his vibrant predecessor Jack Valenti, Dodd thinks movies can have “a profound influence.” When he was a teenager, he and his siblings went to see “Birdman of Alcatraz” with Burt Lancaster and began furiously debating the flaws in the justice system.
“To have this lovely man who loved birds in jail,” he says. “And we got my father, who was in the Senate, so upset, he calls the attorney general of the United States. And apparently the Birdman was a serial killer, but they forgot to tell you in the movie.” He laughs.
Dodd loves an array of films, from “Raging Bull” to “Bulworth.” He diplomatically notes that he enjoyed both “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network.”
He talks about ways to persuade China to show more than 20 non-Chinese films a year; an idea to hold conferences here debating social and political issues raised in movies; and, of course, about the possibility of an Irish film festival next St. Patrick’s Day.
Asked how he likes Hollywood, Dodd replies, “It’s fine, you know, it’s more appealing in January and February.”