Warner Bros. donates $5 million to American History Museum to create theater

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 12:03 PM

Warner Bros. Entertainment has given $5 million to the National Museum of American History to create a first-rate film theater in its 46-year-old auditorium.

With the gift, the museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, will establish regular programming on the history of American film, a feature that has been missing from the country's largest history museum.

The Warner Bros. gift will allow the museum to install new sound and screen technology, including digital 3-D projection. The agreement includes access to the film archives of Warner Bros. and the MGM library, the storehouses of many American classics, but does not restrict the museum's programming to those studios, said a museum spokeswoman.

"For more than a century, American movies have provided a strong and enduring national cultural connection that crosses generations," Brent D. Glass, the museum's director said in a statement. "American film deserves a special home at our museum, and the Warner Bros. partnership expands our capacity to tell this unique story and allow museum visitors to explore the legacy of American cinema."

The Warner holdings include "The Wizard of Oz," "Citizen Kane," "Show Boat," "Casablanca," "The Jazz Singer," "The Color Purple" and "The Lord of the Rings," as well as many famous early cartoons and the work of director Clint Eastwood.

"This partnership with the Smithsonian, whose very name is the gold standard for the preservation and presentation of all things with historical significance, is a great step reminding people that movies and television shows are an important part of our shared culture," Barry M. Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Warner Bros., said in a statement.

Among the museum's extensive pop culture collection are props from 1920s silent films, early cameras and lenses, and drawings from the first Mickey Mouse animated film, "Steamboat Willie."

"The gift parallels the collections and brings them to life," said Melinda Machado, a spokeswoman for the museum. "It helps us do what we haven't been able to do in film programming, and now with our relationship with Warner, we can bring in actors and directors for programs."

The 270-seat theater, named the Carmichael Auditorium after a former Smithsonian secretary, will be renamed the Warner Bros. Theater. The museum will continue to offer author lectures, panel discussions and screenings of documentaries in the new theater.

The conversion is expected to be completed in 2011.

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