WASHINGTON -- The line outside the bathroom at the National Portrait Gallery has been out the door ever since museum officials decided to hang a portrait of late-night host Stephen Colbert in between the men's and women's restrooms.
"The lines have been extraordinary," museum director Marc Pachter said today as he prepared to end his 33-year tenure with the Smithsonian Institution. "A friend e-mailed that it was good I was leaving with my dignity."
Colbert, who plays an egotistical conservative talk show host on his Comedy Central show, "The Colbert Report," has made a running joke of his campaign to get his portrait into the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History turned him down. But the National Portrait Gallery, famous for its portraits of the presidents but also home to unique portrayals of athletes, hip-hop artists and Hollywood stars, welcomed the idea. The comic offered "a digital image on canvas" that shows a portrait of Colbert within a portrait within another portrait of himself. Museum officials agreed to a six-week run, electing to place the comedian just outside the museum's Hall of the Presidents.
Pachter values the exhibit in part because it is introducing new viewers, most in their 20s, to the gallery, even if only to pose with the Colbert portrait for their Facebook entries. And it may well eclipse the publicity the Portrait Gallery won a few years ago when Pachter raised money to save the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from going private.
As for Colbert, he said recently on his show, "I don't mean to brag, but as it contains three portraits, my portrait has more portraits than any other portrait in the National Portrait Gallery." Then he added, "All employees must wash hands before returning to work."