News, Mar. 24: Jack Valenti To Step Down, Michael Jackson Sues, Busta Rhymes Gets Probation, More…

Top Story: Valenti To Step Down as MPAA Head

Jack Valenti, who has held the Motion Picture Association of America’s top post for 38 years and oversaw the creation of Hollywood’s movie ratings system in the 1960s, announced at the annual ShoWest convention Tuesday that he plans to retire, possibly within three months, The Associated Press reports. “I look at this with mixed emotions, because when you’ve done something so long, it’s difficult to tear yourself away from it,” Valenti told reporters before making the announcement to theater owners in a convention opening address. “But also, in any job, you want to leave before people ask you to leave.” MPAA has hired media recruiter Spencer Stuart to hunt for a new leader for the trade group, which represents Hollywood’s top seven studios–Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and MGM. Valenti said he would maintain an “umbilical relationship” with the MPAA and Hollywood, though he was not certain what that role would be. “I’ve been blessed with some genetic energy, so I’m not going to fade away,” Valenti said.

It’s Jackson’s Turn To Sue

Usually the target of lawsuits, Michael Jackson filed his own Monday against New Jersey businessman Henry Vaccaro, claiming he is illegally selling private property belonging to the pop star and his famous family on the Internet, Reuters reports. The lawsuit claims Vaccaro obtained letters, pictures, song lyrics and other items belonging to Jackson through a bankruptcy sale involving the Jackson’s parents, Joseph and Katherine, and held by Vaccaro and that he has no right to sell them. Jackson‘s attorney Brian Wolf told Reuters that because Michael Jackson was not part of the bankruptcy, his property should not have been sold and Vaccaro had no claim to it.

Rhymes Sentenced to Six Months’ Probation

Rapper Busta Rhymes received six months’ probation after pleading no contest Tuesday to an assault charge, AP reports. According to the police report, Rhymes was performing a late-night gig in Fall River, Mass., in December 2002 when a woman, Celine Giguere, allegedly reached out and touched his chin. In a statement read in court, Rhymes said that when he saw Giguere reach for his face a second time, he grabbed her hand and said, “Please make sure you do not touch me again.” The police report, however, said the rapper grabbed Giguere, shoved her head into a table and said, “If you try touching me again, I’ll kill you.” Rhymes, whose real name is Trevor A. Smith Jr., was also ordered to pay $300 in court costs. He’ll have a clean record if he successfully completes the probation term, AP reports.

Producers Want To Keep Alamo Set Intact

Producers of the latest Ron Howard film The Alamo, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Quaid and Jason Patric, would like to preserve the elaborate set constructed in the Hill Country near Austin, Tex., but it’s not going to be easy. AP reports the movie’s production designer, Michael Corenblith, told the San Antonio Express-News in Tuesday’s online edition, “I would like to see groups of schoolchildren around there. I would love to see the state contribute a little money and for this to become Texas’ version of Colonial Williamsburg. It could become a living history exhibit.” The problem, says Alamo historian and college professor Stephen L. Hardin, is that the set materials aren’t durable and it won’t last. The film premieres in San Antonio, the site of the real Alamo battle, Mar. 27. It opens wide April 9.

Hollywood’s Budgets Top $100 Million

The average cost to make and market a movie in Hollywood is now around $102.9 million, a 15 percent rise from 2003, according to the MPAA, which released figures at ShoWest Tuesday. Reuters reports the final tally for 2003 box office revenues came in at roughly $9.5 billion, down around 0.33 percent from the previous year, while the number of people entering movie theaters came in around 1.574 billion, down 4 percent from 2002. “Let’s face it. Deficits are not only rising in Hollywood, but it is on center stage in Washington, as well. We’ve got to get them under sensible control,” MPAA head Jack Valenti said.

Lifetime Picks Up Frasier

Lifetime, the cabler for women, picked up the exclusive cable rights to longtime TV series Frasier, which just ended its 11-year run on NBC. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Lifetime beat out bids from Turner Broadcasting, MTV Networks and Oxygen and landed Frasier for about $600,000 per episode. The network will begin airing the sitcom in March 2006, when the local stations currently airing it lose their exclusivity.

Prince Signs With Sony

Prince, who was recently inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has given up his independent status and signed a deal with Sony Corp.’s Columbia Records, Reuters reports. The worldwide deal initially covers only the Purple One’s upcoming album, Musicology, which Columbia will release in the United States on April 20. The album coincides with Prince‘s first tour in six years, which begins on Mar. 27 in Reno, Nevada.

Role Call: Darabont To Pen Mission 3; Harrelson, Harris Under Fire

The Green Mile writer/director Frank Darabont is replacing writer Robert Towne on Mission: Impossible 3, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Towne penned the first two of the series’ installments but is free now to focus on his pet project Ask the Dust, adapted from the Depression-era novel by Jan Fante’S…Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris will join forces on 3000 Degrees, a fact-based drama about a fire that turned a century-old storage building in Worcester, Mass., into a cinderbox and claimed the lives of six firefighters in December 1999.