Wednesday night, the American History Museum rolled out the red carpet for one of the most legendary stars in Hollywood: Clint Eastwood. As part of a special ceremony, Eastwood was awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for his lifetime of film contributions to American culture. He also presided over the ribbon-cutting for the new state-of-the-art Warner Bros. Theater, opened to the public after years of renovation.
“I am very pleased to be here tonight, and the Smithsonian is such a world-class museum, to be involved with it is great,” said Eastwood during his prepared remarks, before joking, “It’s great to be at the Smithsonian—at least as a recipient of a medal, not necessarily in one of the cabinets.”
The award was established in 1965 to honor the bicentennial of the birth of James Smithson, the namesake of the Smithsonian whose 1829 bequest laid the groundwork for the founding of the institution. Eastwood is the latest of many extraordinary figures in science, art, entertainment and a range of other areas to be honored for “distinguished contributions to the advancement of areas of interest to the Smithsonian.” Previous recipients have included Walter Cronkite, Stephen Hawking, Jim Henson and Lady Bird Johnson.
Eastwood was honored for the remarkable range of achievements that have stretched across his six decades of acting and directing. Warner Bros. CEO Barry Meyer, who was on hand to celebrate the event, noted that Eastwood is individually responsible for two of the studio’s eight Academy Awards for Best Picture, winning in 1992 for Unforgiven and 2004 for Million Dollar Baby. He also won the Best Director award for each of the films.
Additionally, the event marked the culmination of efforts to create a new state-of-the-art theater for the museum. Enabled in part by a $5 million donation by Warner Bros., what was the Carmichael auditorium has now been renovated into an intimate 264-seat theater, featuring digital 3D capability, a 32-foot screen and an unprecedented degree of accessibility. “This theater, with 5.1 sound and the 3D capabilities and everything else that it has, is really worthy of being here in the Smithsonian,” said Eastwood.
To mark the occasion, the museum has opened a new display of celebrated film artifacts in the Constitution Ave. lobby, on loan from Warner Bros. The display cases feature Eastwood’s costume from the 1992 Western Unforgiven, Humphrey Bogart’s suit from Casablanca, robes worn in the Harry Potter movies and other legendary items.
The Warner Bros. Theater will be used to screen new documentaries and present film festivals celebrating America’s cinematic history. The first festival, held from February 2-5, will feature the films of Humphrey Bogart: Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Big Sleep. Tickets to the festival sold out shortly after going on sale, but moviegoers can watch for tickets to go on sale for future events at the museum’s page.
Upcoming festivals include “Clint Eastwood’s Westerns” from June 22-24, “The Advent of Sound” from July 13-15 and “The Civil War on Film” from October 19-21. The Eastwood festival will feature screenings of some of his all-time classics: Unforgiven, Pale Rider, The Outlaw Josey Wales and the documentary, The Eastwood Factor.
Accepting the award, Eastwood joked about having his career’s work honored in such a way. “They’re opening with Humphrey Bogart films for the first run, and I realize that Mr. Bogart has been decesased for some years now,” he said. “So I was kind of hoping it’d be a while before they run Clint Eastwood movies.”