Isabelle Stevenson, American Theatre Wing Chair and Tireless Supporter of Broadway, Dead at 90

Obituaries   Isabelle Stevenson, American Theatre Wing Chair and Tireless Supporter of Broadway, Dead at 90
Isabelle Stevenson, longtime leader and chairman of the board of the American Theatre Wing, which promotes and supports theatre and partners on the Tony Awards, died Dec. 28, according to Wing publicist Shirley Herz.
Isabelle Stevenson
Isabelle Stevenson Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Mrs. Stevenson was 90 and died in her home after a short illness. She had been active in ATW projects in recent years, even following heart surgery. For many, she represented the face of legit Broadway theatre for years, appearing on the Tony Awards and in the televised theatre seminars on New York area TV.

ATW is, simply, "devoted to promoting excellence in the theatre," according to its website, and so was Mrs. Stevenson, who was given a special lifetime achievement Tony Award honor in 1999.

In 2000, Mrs. Stevenson, president of the American Theatre Wing from 1966-98, recovered after eight hours of heart surgery June 6 to repair a torn aorta that caused her to collapse at her home following the Tony Awards that year.

Mrs. Stevenson was a vaudeville dancer, the "Lubow" in an act called Nice, Florio and Lubow. As president of the Wing, she worked to develop new audiences by initiating such programs as "Introduction to Broadway" (which sends high school kids to see Broadway shows) and "Theatre in Schools" (which sends theatre professionals to high schools to speak). She created and produced cable TV's "Working in the Theatre" seminars and was its longtime host.

As Wing chairman of the board, she oversaw with the president a diverse range of programs designed to bring the theatre directly into the community as well as nurture a new generation of theatregoers. Mrs. Stevenson joined ATW's board in 1954, but her show business career began long before that, according to her bio on the Tony Awards site. She made her debut in Earl Carroll's Vanities, an annual musical extravaganza that rivaled Florenz Ziegfield's Follies and George White's Scandals. She toured the United States as a dancer and was part of a Royal Command Performance at London's Palladium before Queen Elizabeth. She enjoyed even bigger success at the Olympia Theatre in Paris when Le Figaro hailed her as "the blonde Josephine Baker."

Mrs. Stevenson also studied journalism at New York University, and both fashion and costume design at the Traphegan School of Design. At Greystone Publishing, she supervised publication of books on decorating, design and sewing. In 1965, she became president of the Wing for what was expected to be an interim period.

Mrs. Stevenson has been co-chairman of the New York City Board of Education's All-Day Neighborhood Schools, was formerly on the board of directors of The Museum of the City of New York and the board of New Dramatists, Inc.

Mrs. Stevenson has been honored at the New Yorker for New York Awards, receiving The Elizabeth Chapin Award for Volunteers in the Arts for the Citizens Committee for New York City. She was also honored by the Encore Community Services (St. Malachy's, The Actors' Chapel) with their Heart to Heart Award. In 2001 she was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and also that year received the Tree of Life Award from the Jewish National Fund.

Mrs. Stevenson and her late husband resided in New York City, and summered in France. They were parents of two daughters and an adopted niece: Susan Brown of New York City, Laura Maslon of Venice, CA, and her niece Francine Ringold Johnson of Tulsa, OK. She also had two grandsons: David S. Brown and Ethan W. Brown and one great-granddaughter Ella. She is also survived by great grandnieces and grandnephews and their children. Services will be held in New York City at All Souls Unitarian Church, 1157 Lexington Avenue Dec. 30 at 2 PM.

Marquee lights will be dimmed on Broadway in her honor Dec. 30.

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