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Richard D. Heffner, ‘Least-Known Most Powerful Person in Hollywood,’ Dies at 88

Richard D. Heffner, 'Least-Known Most Powerful Person in Hollywood,' Dies at 88

Historian, educator and broadcaster Richard D. Heffner, who, for two decades was in charge of the film industry’s ratings board and was the creator and host of “The Open Mind” on public television, died at 88, The New York Times reports.

Heffner created “The Open Mind,” a half-hour public affairs program broadcast on Saturdays on PBS stations around the country, in 1956. He served as the show’s producer and hosted “the vast majority of episodes”of the show, according to The New York Times. He also helped create New York City’s public broadcasting station, which would become WNET, and served as its first general manager. 

When Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, asked Heffner to chair the MPAA’s Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) in 1974, Heffner initially declined, because, as he later told TV Quarterly, “My mother didn’t raise me to count nipples…” He eventually took the job, which he kept for 20 years, during which he commuted every week to the West Coast. When he started at CRA, the only film ratings were: P, PG, R and X.

During his tenure there, two new ratings were introduced: PG-13, in
1984, and
NC-17, in 1990, which replaced the X rating. The Los Angeles Times called Heffner “the least-known most powerful person in Hollywood.” In explaining why he gave NC-17 rating to director Ken Russell’s “Whore,” Heffner said, “When a film is chock full of graphic violence, it has to be off limits to children.” But he was far from conservative, according to his colleagues. 

“He’s far from being a prude. He’s a very liberal man,” one
former CARA voting member told The Los Angeles Times, saying that Heffner, “pounded into (board members) not to be to harsh. He told me to
lighten up.”

On the faculty of Rutgers University since 1964, Heffner was the author of “A Documentary History of the United States.”

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