When Antoinette Perry died in June 1946, the theatre community paid tribute to the actress, producer, director and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing by naming an awards ceremony after her. The first Tony Awards took place on April 6, 1947, and thus began an annual celebration of excellence in the theatre that marks its 50th anniversary in June 1996.
In a letter to Isabelle Stevenson, president of the American Theatre Wing (which co-presents the Tony Awards), Miss Perry's daughter, Margaret, reminisces about Tony's first night.
Hi! I'm your Toni's oldest daughter, and I was at that first Toni Awards evening 50 years ago! Here is what I remember of the first event.
Everybody said they wanted to do some memorial thing after Mother passed away, and the first suggestion was from Sam Jaffe he wanted to name his acting school after her. The catch was that he was all for [union leader] Harry Bridges, and Brock Pemberton [Perry's producing partner] was the campaign manager for Alf Landon [Republican candidate for the presidency], so that became an impossible mix!
The next idea was to have a statue of Mom put in Times Square, but then we thought of pigeons, so that was out. Jake Wilke suggested the Awards ceremony. Revlon heard about the idea and wanted to tie-in with a publicity gimmick and say in their ads "which twin has the Toni," so to avoid that we decided to spell her name like a man's ending with a y instead of her regular spelling (ending with an i). I can't remember all the winners except my choice. I picked George Somebody. He was the stage-door man at the Empire. All of us chose Mr. and Mrs. Katzenberg because they hadn't missed a single opening night in 15 years! The Awards party was in a very attractive room in some hotel (The Waldorf Astoria). Lots of mirrors and evening dresses and a few (but not all) in tuxedos. There was a little skinny stage with two or three flats for the Stars to hide behind, and there were speeches and presentations and a dance band and a semicircle of tables. It was a get-together of Mother's friends; the people she'd worked with; the backstage crowd; the angels the box-office people the real Broadway.
It never occurred to us that it would happen the next year, or the next or the next it was for right then! As if Mom had gathered up the people she loved best and had wanted them to have a good time!
It was a fun, happy group of people who knew each other well and were happiest being together . . . Like your group today that's the part that I hope will never, ever change.
-- Margaret Perry