Hollywood figurehead JackValenti bade a tearful farewell this morning to ShoWest, the assembly oftheatre-owners that he has addressed as chief executive of the Motion PictureAssociation of America (MPAA) for the past 37 years.

A packed room of exhibitorsin Las Vegas put side any differences they may have had with their sometimenemesis on the opposite of the negotiating table and gave a clearly emotional 83-year-oldValenti a warm standing ovation.

John Fithian, president ofthe National Association of Theatre Owners, also paid fulsome praise toValenti, noting in particular his consummate politicking when shielding theindustry from any Congressional backlash in the aftermath of the Columbineschool shootings in 1999.

"Jack organized a team oflobbyists to beat back legislation that would have sent you [US theatre-owners]to jail for one violation of this rating system," recalled Fithian.

More tributes are likely tofollow on Thursday evening when Warren Beatty presents Valenti with a ShoWestmedal of honour.

The MPAA has now retained Spencer Stuart, the high-end headhunting outfit, to draw up a list of suitable candidatesto succeed Valenti. "Hopefully, there will be somebody in place in the next twoto three months," the MPAA chief told reporters. "Come May, it will have been 38years in this job. This is the time for me to depart as CEO. I feel that in mygut."

Although he would not bedrawn on specifics, Valenti said he would maintain an "umbilical" relationshipwith the film business. "I've been blessed with genetic energy so I will stillstay connected with the industry."

"I don't intend to do aMcCArthur and fade away," he told ShoWest, delivering his laststate-of-the-industry address with his trademark oratorical flourishes and baroque turns of phrase.

He made light of theoccasional differences of opinion he has had with exhibitors, preferring todwell on the common causes. "I still wince when I hear the phrase 'blindblinding'. But all of those chasms have now been bridged."

Assessing his own legacy,Valenti took particular pride in having helped usher in the voluntary filmrating system, on Nov 1, 1968 - a system that, with the subsequent addition ofthe NC-17 certificate, endures in the same form today.

In doing so, Valenti helpedforestall any legislative action on the part of Washington and replaced an adhoc system of censorship and certification across the US that amounted to whathe called an "alphabetical chaos".

Any enduring criticism ofthat rating system, Valenti noted, betrays an understanding "as meager as thememories of state and local censorship boards that lay upon this land beforethe rating system came into being."

Valenti went on to sum uphis greatest achievement in just two words "I survived... and today survival is notan inconsiderable asset."