WASHINGTON — Clint Eastwood helped open a new movie theater on the National Mall Wednesday evening and the Smithsonian Institution honored the actor and director for his six decades of work in American film.
Eastwood, 81, visited the National Museum of American History to help dedicate the new Warner Bros. Theater as a space to present the history of Hollywood. Warner Bros. Entertainment donated $5 million in 2010 to renovate the museum's old Carmichael Auditorium into a modern theater with 3D projection capability.
The new theater gives the Smithsonian its first space dedicated to film history, museum spokeswoman Melinda Machado said. The 264-seat theater will be able to screen silent films and first-run movies.
Eastwood, who was awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for his distinguished contributions in film, said he was a fan of the museum complex. The addition of a theater will add a piece of entertainment history to the Smithsonian's collection, he said.
"People are treating it more as a part of our American heritage," he said.
Eastwood also commented on the recent casting of Justin Timberlake to co-star in his next film, "Trouble with the Curve." He said he liked Timberlake as a performer and recording artist, "but I'd seen him acting and he does quite well."
Eastwood, who endorsed John McCain in the presidential race four years ago, joked that he may run for president himself this time. He didn't say who he was supporting.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, presented the Smithson medal, telling Eastwood he was going to "make your day."
Eastwood said he was proud to help open a new theater that's worthy of the Smithsonian.
He told a crowd of donors and lawmakers that "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."
Warner Bros. will help present four film festivals at the museum this year and into the future, Machado said. Most programs at the theater will be free to visitors, rather than charging for tickets as the Smithsonian does at its IMAX theaters.
On Friday, the museum will open a three-day film festival to highlight the work of Humphrey Bogart with free screenings of "Casablanca," "The Maltese Falcon" and other films.
Movie costumes also are going on display at the museum, including those worn by Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and Eastwood, along with Harry Potter's robe. The costumes are on loan from Warner Bros., along with animation drawings for Bugs Bunny and other memorabilia.
Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Barry Meyer said he visited the Smithsonian a couple of years ago and saw that it needed more from the entertainment world.
"We realized so much of the fabric of our cultural history of the United States was tied up in film, and there was not that big of a film collection at the museum," Meyer said.
He said the museum's old theater was run down and not being used.
"I realized our industry needed to be better represented," Meyer said, adding that he hopes other film companies help build the Smithsonian's collection.
Dwight Blocker Bowers, the Smithsonian's entertainment curator, said the addition of a movie theater means the Smithsonian is taking the history of film seriously. The museum is in early talks with the American Film Institute to develop a daily film screening, he said.
"We're hoping to make Warner Bros.' dollar and our tax dollars function for the audience," he said.
Warner Bros. may also donate some movie objects to the museum, Bowers said.
"We always have a wish list in our hip pocket," he said.
The James Smithson Bicentennial Medal was established in 1965.