By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Stan Lee, who helped create hundreds of comic book superheroes, including "Spider-Man," and Olivia de Havilland, 92, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1939 for her portrayal of Melanie Hamilton in "Gone With the Wind," were among the recipients of the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal at the White House yesterday.
"I wonder what took so long," said Lee, 85, in an interview Sunday. "Say 'He said it with a laugh' or I'll shoot you."
The award to artists and arts patrons is billed as the highest bestowed by the U.S. government. The humanities medal is considered the most prestigious in its field. President Bush presented the awards.
"I feel very honored, very surprised," Lee said. "When I first got the phone call, I thought it was a gag. I'd heard of it but didn't know much about it. I'd heard of the NEA. But it was just a name."
De Havilland's Hollywood acting career ranged from 1935's "Alibi Ike," a baseball picture written by Ring Lardner, to the 1948 film "The Snake Pit," for which she was nominated for an Oscar for her role as a woman suffering a nervous breakdown. She won Best Actress Academy Awards for "To Each His Own" (1946) and "The Heiress" (1949). Lee is the creator, co-creator or re-creator of superheroes including the Incredible Hulk, Captain America and the X-Men.
Other individuals receiving the arts medal were jazz pianist Hank Jones; Jesús Moroles, a sculptor known for his monumental works in granite; and brothers Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman, songwriters long associated with Disney films, who created "It's a Small World (After All)."
Ford's Theatre Society was one of four institutions to receive the Medal of Arts. The working theater, famous for being the site of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, is closed for 18 months for extensive renovations. It is scheduled to reopen in February in time for the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. "This administration has, in words and deeds, been very encouraging of our efforts to renovate the facility," says Paul Tetreault, the theater's director, noting that first lady Laura Bush hosted abridged performances at the White House.
Other groups receiving an arts medal were the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville, cited for their contribution to preserving African American spirituals; the José Limón Dance Foundation of New York, the modern dance troupe; and the Presser Foundation of Haverford, Pa., for its music philanthropy.
The humanities medals to individuals went to Gabor S. Boritt, Civil War historian; Richard Brookhiser, historian of the early days of the Republic; Harold Holzer, Lincoln scholar; Myron Magnet, editor-at-large of the urban affair magazine "City Journal"; Albert Marrin, an author of more than two dozen books for young adults; Milton J. Rosenberg, radio talk-show host; Thomas A. Saunders III and Jordan Horner Saunders, philanthropists; and Robert H. Smith, a philanthropist whose family is best known for developing Crystal City.
Also receiving humanities awards were two institutions: the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., and the John Templeton Foundation, which fosters dialogue between scientists and theologians about the "big questions" in their distinctive fields of inquiry.
President Bush also presented the 2008 Presidential Citizens Medal to Bruce Cole, chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities; Dana Gioia, chairman, National Endowment for the Arts; Adair Margo, chairman, President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities; and the former and current directors of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Robert S. Martin and Anne-Imelda M. Radice.