Little Bits of History

April 6

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 6, 2017

1947: The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre commences. Better known as the Tony Award, it was named in honor of Toni Perry. The American Theatre Wing (ATW) was originally called the Stage Women’s War Relief and during World War I they helped to sew uniforms and other garments, turning out close to two million articles. They also helped entertain the troops and raised nearly $7 million for the war effort. During World War II, the women of the theater again banded together to help. Perry was a part of that effort. After the War, the group continued to function but dedicated itself to supporting “excellence and education in the theatre”.

Perry was born in 1888 in Denver, Colorado and worked successfully as an actress prior to retiring in 1909 to marry. Her husband died in 1922 and she returned to the theater. She took up directing and partnered with Brock Pemberton to produce several plays, the most famous of them the Pulitzer Prize winning Harvey, which Perry also directed. During the War, she was chairwoman of the board and secretary in the ATW. They provided entertainment to servicemen in several American cities. Perry died suddenly on June 29, 1946 suffering a heart attack just one day after her birthday. She was 58 years old.

Her friends at ATW wanted to honor her for all her work in the industry. Pemberton suggested the ATW create a series of awards given in her name. On this day, the Tony Awards were first distributed and have been handed out yearly ever since. They are one of the industry’s most coveted awards and analogous  to the Academy Awards (Oscars) for films, Grammy Awards for music, and Emmy Awards for television. They are the fourth spoke in EGOT, for the select few who have won all four awards. This “grand slam” of entertainment has been achieved only twelve times.

There were 11 awards passed out on this day but they have expanded and by 2014 there were 24 categories honored. There are competitive awards given in performance categories as well as show and technical categories. There are also non-competitive awards honoring not just the year’s work, but lifetime achievements. Some of the honors have been retired and other have been renamed and split into different awards. The Tony Awards were originally passed out at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. The venue has changed with time and the next award ceremony is to be held on June 11, 2017, venue as yet to be named.

At Jacob Wilk’s suggestion, [Pemberton] proposed an award in her honor for distinguished stage acting and technical achievement. At the initial event in 1947, as he handed out an award, he called it a Tony. The name stuck. – Ellis Nassour

There’s not a person in this theater that doesn’t know what it is to be a salesman – to be out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. As we know, a salesman has got to dream. It goes with the territory. – Mike Nichols, accepting the award for best director of a play for Death of a Salesman

You were my first crush! When that whistle was blown in Sound of Music, you made my day. – Nina Arianda, accepting the award for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play for Venus in Fur from presenter Christopher Plummer

Welcome to the 66th annual Tony Awards, or as we like to call it, 50 Shades of Gay. – Neil Patrick Harris, host

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