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Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer, Clint Eastwood and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. Photo by Kyle Samperton.

Celebrated actor graces unveiling of Smithsonian’s new Warner Bros. Theatre at the National Museum of American History.
By John Arundel

Honoree Clint Eastwood (center) with Chairman and Ceo Barry Meyer (left) and Interim Director Marc Pachter (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

For wonky Washington, it could not have gotten any glitzier than The Smithsonian’s unveiling of the new 3D Warner Bros. Theatre at the National Museum of American History. Huge spotlights sliced the early evening sky, criss-crossing the museum’s entrance with shards of white light as VIPs checked their cars and entered the museum with expectations of that possible handshake, iPhoto, or autograph with the evening’s honoree, Clint Eastwood.

The 81-year-old legend of screen was honored by the Smithsonian with the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal and by Warner Bros. for “35 films over 35 years” by Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer and by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a member of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents who presented Eastwood with the award by telling his old pal that he was going to “make your day.”

Flanked by Eastwood, Meyer and Leahy, the Smithsonian Regents cut the ribbon on its new 3-D theater in a special ceremony and cocktail reception featuring heaping platters of shrimp, oysters and stone crabs, during which Eastwood joked, “it’s very nice to be part of the Smithsonian, at least as the recipient of a medal and not in one of the cabinets.”

After remarking that the old theater was broken down and in disrepair, Eastwood said he was proud to help open a new theater that’s worthy of the Smithsonian. “People are treating it more as a part of our American heritage,” he said.

The former Republican mayor of his hometown of Carmel, Calif. and a John McCain supporter in 2008, Eastwood wouldn’t say who he was supporting in 2012 but joked to reporters that he might even run for president this time. He recently cast Justin Timberlake as co-star of his next film, “Trouble with the Curve,” telling reporters, “I like him as a performer and singer, and I’ve seen his acting and he does quite well.”

The new Warner Bros. Theater is a site to behold, an utterly modern facility with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, including 3-D capability, made possible by a $5 million donation by Warner Bros. Entertainment.  The 264-seat theater will be capable of screening old silent films as well as first-run flicks.

“The Warner Bros. Theater is a state-of-the-art venue for highlighting filmed entertainment and programs that are important to people,” Meyer said.

A three-day film festival at the new theater starts on Friday. The opening night screening of Casablanca is sold out. The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Big Sleep will be shown free, with seating on a first-come, first-served basis. This is the first of four Smithsonian film festivals in 2012.

“Films are an integral part of our culture and our daily lives,” said Marc Pachter, interim director of the museum. “The best films, and, of course, the best actors, remain timeless in our hearts and imaginations. With the opening of the Warner Bros. Theater we are presenting Casablanca and the performances of Clint Eastwood. They are as significant to the study of the American experience as any artifact in the museum’s collection.”

Warner Bros. $5 million gift allows the museum to bring new opportunities to
celebrate the art of film to not only Washingtonians, but to global visitors as well, Meyer said. “Warner Bros. has a rich legacy of entertaining audiences for almost 90 years and truly realizes the importance and value of that history,” he said.

Clint Eastwood receives his James Smithson Bicentennial Medal. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

Visitors to the museum can also see objects representing Warner Bros. studio history such as Jack Warner’s silver telephone and Bugs Bunny animation drawings. The new display of objects will demonstrate the unique brand of Hollywood storytelling and accessibility that has helped to define American culture to global audiences, Meyer said.

Warner Bros. was founded in 1923 in Pennsylvania by the four Warner brothers: Albert, Sam,
Harry and Jack. “Today, the studio stands at the forefront of every aspect of the industry from feature film and television production and worldwide distribution to DVD, Blu-ray, digital distribution, animation, comic books, product and brand licensing, international cinemas and broadcasting,” Meyer said. “Today, Warner Bros. maintains operations around the globe, and our iconic WB shield logo is recognized everywhere as a symbol of world-class entertainment.”

A Time Warner company, the studio will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year.

The inaugural display showcases 20 feet of memorabilia, including costumes worn by Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and Eastwood, along with Harry Potter’s robe.

Meyer, who told the audience that map-collecting was a special hobby, said he has had a long and special appreciation for the arts as well as American history. He said he first visited the museum in 2009 and began to forge a strong relationship with the Smithsonian.

“This partnership with the Smithsonian, whose very name signifies the gold standard for the preservation and presentation of all things with historical significance, is a great step toward reminding people that movies and television shows are an important part of our shared culture,” he said.

The James Smithson Bicentennial Medal honored Eastwood’s contribution to the American experience through film, recognizing his six decades of captivating national and international audiences through his work as an award-winning actor and director. The Medal was established in 1965 and is under the Secretary’s authority to persons who have made distinguished contributions to the advancement of areas of interest to the Smithsonian.

Since 1990, Eastwood is the 69th recipient.

To learn more about the museum, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu.

Barry Meyer

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