Thursday, May 05, 2005

Antoinette Perry: The Woman Behind The Tony Award!

I read this article in Playbill today that the Tony Award nominations are being announced May 10, 2005 at the Marquis Theatre in New York.

I got to wondering about where the name of the Tony Award came from. I'm ashamed to say: I had no idea.

Unlike the Academy Awards, a real person inspired the Tony. When actor and director Antoinette Perry died in 1946 at the age of 58, her loss was so deeply felt on Broadway that conventional eulogies seemed inadequate; a permanent memorial would be necessary. And so the following year, the Tony Award was born.

These awards were first presented in the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel (sigh) in 1947.

The story of her life is well laid out in an article written by Joseph Gustaitis and originally published in American History Magazine in April 1997.

Not only was she an esteemed actor, but director as well -- her biggest hit was her 1944 smash, Harvey. According to the article:

When Perry first read the script of Mary Coyle Chase's comedy about a pacific boozer named Elwood P. Dowd and his chum Harvey, a six-foot-one-inch rabbit that only Elwood could see, Perry feared that staging it would be impossible. But she toiled on the project, helped whip the unpolished script into shape, and mounted a triumph starring Frank Fay that ran for 1,755 performances at the 48th Street Theater in New York.

I also didn't know (shame on me!) that the American Theatre Wing was founded by playwright Rachel Crothers and six other women.

According to the article:

Perry also dedicated herself to the American Theatre Wing, the organization that today oversees the Tony Awards. Established in 1917 by playwright Rachel Crothers and six other women of the theater as the "Stage Women's War Relief," the Wing's self-appointed duties included the collection of food and clothing for war relief, selling Liberty Bonds, and entertaining servicemen. After World War I, the Wing turned to helping civilians, but remained fairly dormant until 1939 and the beginning of World War II in Europe. Once again, Crothers summoned the women of Broadway, and the organization reemerged as a branch of the British War Relief Society. When the United States entered the war in 1941, the organization became independent, with such notables as Gertrude Lawrence, Helen Hayes, Josephine Hull, and Perry, assisting Crothers as officers.

Hey: It's an honor just to have an award named after you!

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