Clint Eastwood and Patrick Leahy’s Bromance

At a Smithsonian event, the actor and the politician were practically inseparable.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

Bromance in action: After awards and remarks, Clint Eastwood and Senator Patrick Leahy take a seat to watch some film highlights. “We have a lot in common,” said Eastwood. Photograph by Jeff Martin.

Slideshow: Clint Eastwood Honored at Smithsonian Gala 

Even though they are ten years apart in age, director/movie star/icon Clint Eastwood and Vermont senator Patrick Leahy could be brothers—or at least bros. Not only are they somewhat similar in height and appearance, but they both speak in that creamy rasp that’s instantly familiar to Eastwood fans. And they were practically inseparable Wednesday night when Eastwood was honored at a gala at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Leahy, a member of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, presented the Oscar winner with the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for distinguished contributions in film.

Eastwood arrived in town Tuesday, and he and Leahy had dinner that night. What the senator came away with was that “the trait Eastwood most detests when he encounters it is racism,” a theme that threaded through Eastwood’s 2008 film Gran Torino. Praising it, Leahy said, “That movie alone would be enough for any moviemaker.” Okay, Senator, we asked, but do you think you could be his stand-in? Or at least loop his voice? Leahy became the diplomatic man of the Senate that he is: “Oh, he’s fine on his own. I don’t want to go there.”

Eastwood, for his part, praised Leahy right back. “Senator Leahy and I have a lot in common,” he said. “We both like target shooting. But I don’t want anybody to get the wrong impression—he’s a big advocate of gun safety.” (Another thing they have in common: Eastwood himself is a former politician; he served as mayor of Carmel, California, from 1986 to 1988.) The two men sat on stage side by side during the presentation, and then again later, at a cafe table swarmed by fans and photographers, to watch a brief screening of highlights of Warner Brothers films.

Warner Brothers has produced all of Eastwood’s films going back to Dirty Harry in 1971, according to chairman and CEO Barry Meyer. We asked Meyer about bringing Eastwood’s character, Harry Callahan, back to the screen. “We talk about it all the time,” he said—but so far, Eastwood has not acquiesced. The last time he played Callahan was in Sudden Impact in 1983.

When we got a moment with Eastwood, we asked him the same question we asked Meyer. After all, Harrison Ford has found a way to age and remain Indiana Jones. Gruff but charming, Eastwood replied, “We ought to leave well enough alone. I’m working on a new thing in life.” Producer and director George Stevens Jr., standing nearby, sided with Eastwood. When asked if Callahan would be cool for baby boomers, Stevens said, “But that’s not the audience. The audience is teenagers.”

Hopefully teenagers will find time to visit the History Museum’s new, state-of-the-art Warner Brothers Theater, a $5 million gift from the movie company that also opened Wednesday night, launching a three-day film festival. The theater is showing Humphrey Bogart classics that will run today through Sunday, including The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The Big Sleep. Admission is free and seating is on a first come, first served. Next will be a retrospective of Eastwood films. Eastwood said he was happy to be up on the screen and “not in one of the cabinets.”

Barry Meyer credited the Museum’s director emeritus, Brent Glass, in the creation of the new theater. “A few years ago my wife, Wendy, and I were here,” he said. “We’re both history buffs. We met Brent, who suggested how great it would be if Warner Bros. collaborated with the Smithsonian on this project. Now, three years later, here we are dedicating the theater.” This proves that Washington projects can get done in a timely fashion—when they intersect with Hollywood money, of course.

The gala itself felt like something a Hollywood flick would use to depict a typical Washington gala: klieg lights out front, guests a mix of the nondescript and the known, decor splashy but not overly so, bars with top-shelf brands, and lots and lots of food. Seriously. We searched for a theme in the offerings, but after the obvious boxes of popcorn, it was difficult to find a thread that connected curried squash, beet salad, stone crab claws, shrimp, oysters, quiche, Kobe beef, pasta, stew, and a variety of passed canapes. Feast, maybe? The kind Washington does so well, with something for every taste constituency.

Also at the gala was the other featured speaker, Marc Pachter, the museum’s acting director. Also Chris Dodd, the former senator and current head of the Motion Picture Association of America; Representative Doris Matsui; Marcelle Leahy; Representative Henry Waxman and Janet Waxman; Representative Dan Lungren and Bobbi Lungren; Representative Sam Johnson and Lindsey Ray; Representative John Dingell; Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton; Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture; Michael Caruso, editor in chief of Smithsonian Magazine; Dierdre Evans-Pritchard, executive director of the DC Independent Film Festival, Susan Fleishman of Warner Brothers; Bob Gazzale, president of the American Film Institute; Amy Henderson, a historian with the National Portrait Gallery; Bonnie Lautenberg, Philip Lader; Evelyn Lieberman; Maureen Orth; John F.W. Rogers of Goldman Sachs; Joseph Suarez; Judy Woodruff and Al Hunt; Catherine Wyler, daughter of director William Wyler, and her husband, Richard Rymland.