February 25, 2011
“We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces!” Norma Desmond, the forgotten movie star, famously snarled in the 1950 film noir classic Sunset Boulevard. And come Oscar night, we really want to hear fewer words—especially in the form of overextended acceptance speeches—and instead revel in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s biggest night of the year. But you don’t need one of those coveted seats at the Kodak Theater to get in on the fun. Instead, come get star struck at the National Portrait Gallery with these pieces pertaining to some of the greatest faces of the silver screen.
1. Katherine Hepburn
Hepburn, known for playing very independent-minded characters, was nominated 12 times and with four wins, she still holds the record for the most Best Actress Oscars. She took home the gold for her performances in Morning Glory (1933), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968) and On Golden Pond (1981). You can get an up-close look at her statuettes on display on the museum’s third floor, along with a 1982 portrait by artist Everett Raymond Kinstler.
2. Grace Kelly
For all those fashionistas out there, you absolutely must familiarize yourself with the indomitable aesthetic of Grace Kelly. The 1983 bronze sculpture illuminates her timeless beauty and effortless style. Kelly is perhaps best known for her roles in films like The Country Girl (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955) and Mogambo (1953), for which she received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Hollywood royalty became real-life royalty when she married Prince Ranier III of Monaco and was given the title of Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco, or more familiarly, “Princess Grace.”
3. Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor is regarded as one of America’s greatest actresses. Starting out as a child star in films such as Lassie Come Home (1943) and National Velvet (1944), she was able to make the often-difficult transition to grown-up roles where her talent and rare beauty were allowed to shine. Taylor won two Best Actress Oscars for her roles in Butterfield 8 (1960) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966). You can find her in the “20th Century Americans” exhibition on the third floor by way of a 1955 photograph by Sid Avery.
4. Tom Hanks
There is no contemporary actor more widely recognized and respected than Tom Hanks. Though he received early recognition for his ability to play average people in extraordinary situations, it wasn’t until his portrayal as a lawyer with AIDS in Philadelphia (1993) and his astounding role as the title character in Forrest Gump (1994) that he received his back-to-back Best Actor Oscars. Located in the National Portrait Gallery’s “Americans Now” exhibit on the first floor, this portrait, a digital print by Dan Winters, speaks to Hanks’ ability to portray the average Joe.
5. George Clooney
George Clooney personifies style and masculinity to the point that women want him and men want to be him. Clooney has been acting in film and television for more than 30 years with a successful turn in the 90s series E.R., which he followed up with the Ocean’s Eleven films and an Oscar-winning performance in Syriana (2005), for which he won the Best Supporting Actor statuettte. In a state-of-the-art video installment of multiple American figures in the “Americans Now” exhibit, artist Lincoln Schatz plies his craft to create an unconventional video portrait of the actor.
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