The Tony Awards was founded in 1947 by a committee of the American Theatre Wing headed by Brock Pemberton, and Antoinette Perry is the woman the Tony Awards is named after, she was nicknamed Tony, an actress, director, producer and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, and she died in 1946.
(I found all this out through Google and looking at Time Magazine.)
Antoinette Perry was once quoted as saying:
“When I was a child, I didn’t say, as most children do, that I was going to become an actress.
I felt that I was an actress and no one could have convinced me that I wasn’t.”
I became so intrigued with Antoinette Perry and how the Tonys first started that I just have to print in this Blog an article that was written by theatre journalist, Ellis Nassour entitled ‘The Original Tony’ and also another entitled ‘The Mayor of Broadway Dies at 91’, the story of Vincent Sardi Jr., written by William Grimes.
Vincent Sardi Jr. was one of the first recipients to receive a Tony Award and the reason was quite intriguing.
TIME Magazine called Tony Perry ‘the wartime guiding spirit of the American Theatre Wing’
(When the first Tony Awards were given in 1947, it wasn’t quite the polished production that theatre fans have come to expect. The ceremony was on a much smaller scale, and the actual awards were decidedly quirkier, as TIME reported in 1947.)
During the first two years of the Tonys (1947 and 1948), there was no official Tony Award. These days there are 24 categories of awards , plus several special awards.
The first awards ceremony was held on April 6, 1947, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. The first prizes were “a scroll, cigarette lighter and articles of jewellery such as 14-carat gold compacts and bracelets for the women, and money clips for the men. It was not until the third awards ceremony in 1949 that the first Tony medallion was given to award winners.
“The American Theatre Wing handed out memorial awards in 1947 for Director Antoinette Perry (Harvey, Kiss the Boys Goodbye), who died last year. Among the recipients: Helen Hayes, Ingrid Bergman, Jose Ferrer and Fredric March, for their Broadway performances this season; Mr. & Mrs. Ira Katzenberg (TIME, Jan. 30, 1939) for their durability as first-nighters; Restaurateur Vincent Sardi Sr., “for providing a . . . comfort station for theatre folk. . . .”
The Original “Tony” by Theatre Journalist Ellis Nassour
The American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards® got their start in 1947 when the Wing established an awards program to celebrate excellence in the theatre.
Named for Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, producer, and the dynamic wartime leader of the American Theatre Wing who had recently passed away, the Tony Awards made their official debut at a dinner in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947. Vera Allen, Perry’s successor as chairwoman of the Wing, presided over an evening that included dining, dancing, and a program of entertainment. The dress code was black tie optional, and the performers who took to the stage included Mickey Rooney, Herb Shriner, Ethel Waters, and David Wayne. Eleven Tonys were presented in seven categories, and there were eight special awards, including one for Vincent Sardi, proprietor of the eponymous eatery on West 44th Street. Big winners that night included José Ferrer, Arthur Miller, Helen Hayes, Ingrid Bergman, Patricia Neal.
At age 15, she joined her uncle George Wessells’s touring company. “I watched and learned. I did everything from helping in wardrobe to selling tickets. I was petite and blonde and soon was playing the ingenue in melodramas and farces. Eventually, Uncle George trained me, mainly in the Shakespearean male roles.”
She left the Wessels company in 1905 in Chicago where she auditioned for the part that brought her to New York. She was almost immediately cast to join The Music Master, a long-running melodrama about a Viennese conductor in America searching for his daughter. Miss Perry played the lead female role opposite David Warfield, one of the theatre’s most popular actors.
Warfield had great admiration for Miss Perry and they became friends. He was associated with impresario David Belasco and arranged for Miss Perry to audition for him. In October 1907, Miss Perry was cast as Warfield’s leading lady in Belacso’s A Grand Army Man at his new Styvestant Theatre (now the Belasco).
Soon, another man was in Antoinette Perry’s life. Frank Frueauff, an old beau from home who merged Denver Gas and Electric, of which he was vice president, with Cities Service (now CITGO). They fell madly in love, and, at the peak of her New York acting career, Miss Perry married Frueauff.
In 1920, approached by Brock Pemberton, a flamboyant press agent turned producer, Miss Perry, unbeknownst to Frueauff, became an “angel” in Pemberton’s production of Zona Gale’s comedy Miss Lulu Bett. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and become a huge hit. Soon Miss Perry was Pemberton’s silent partner. When her husband discovered his wife has invested in theatre and had done so well, he gave his blessings. Then, in 1922, he died of a heart attack. He left a $13-million estate.
“Mother generously lent money,” daughter Margaret Perry, 89 and an actress who long ago gave up theatre, said from her wilderness ranch in Colorado, “and bailed actors and playwrights out of overdue hotel bills. She enjoyed the extravagant life. The summer of 1923, she took us, our governess, Uncle Brock, as we were instructed to call him, and his wife Margaret, and ten others to Europe for seven weeks. On coming home, Mother heard theatre’s siren call again.”
A Director is Born
She went into a great depression and became an avid reader. Inspired by actress/playwright Rachel Crothers, who directed her own plays, Perry decided she wanted to direct. Her wealth, which she doubled playing the stock market, and her relationship with Pemberton were her entree. They joined forces, professionally as well as romantically, and had modest successes. In 1929, they struck paydirt with Preston Sturges’s Strictly Dishonourable, a cynical play about virtue and Prohibition. A critic praised Perry “for doing a man’s job” as director. Scalpers got $30 a ticket. Movie rights were sold. They were on their way to easy street.
A month later, the stock market crashed.
“Mother awoke two million dollars in debt,” recalled Margaret. “It took seven years to recover. Somehow, probably because of the success of Strictly Dishonourable, she got a loan of two million dollars.”
Perry and Pemberton shared an intimate office in a theatre (it was adjacent to the Imperial, where there is a parking lot today), and lunched daily at Sardi’s, where they fuelled lots of theatrical gossip. However, at the end of their business day, she’d go home to her children and he to his wife.
Antoinette Perry: Philanthropist
In spite of her theatrical credentials, Perry is best remembered for her generosity and leadership in World War II as a co-founder of the Theatre Wing of Allied Relief, subsequently, the American Theatre Wing.
The Wing operated the famed Stage Door Canteen in the basement of the (now razed) 44th Street Theatre, where stars worked as dishwashers, waiters, waitresses, and entertainers for the armed forces. The sale of film rights for a story about the canteen, and a six-figure check from Perry along with support from Rodgers and Hammerstein, provided USO tours of shows to overseas troops.
Margaret confided her mother was an inveterate gambler. “The seed money for many a Wing activity or show investment came from her track winnings. Even during Wing board meetings, mother played the horses. She’d have her secretary tip toe in to give her the odds, then place a wager with a bookie.”
Perry was also president of the National Experimental Theatre and financed, with Actors Equity and the Dramatists Guild, the work of new playwrights. During and after the war, she underwrote auditions for 7,000 hopefuls. Her dream of a national actor’s school was realized in 1946.
“Mother developed heart problems,” Margaret explained, “but, as a devout Christian Scientist, she refused to see a doctor. That, her directorial duties and her dedication to the work of the Wing took a terrible toll.” By now, because of their huge successes, Pemberton was a member of cafe society and, because of his brother’s membership in the Algonquin Roundtable, on the best terms with literary society. “But,” noted Margaret, “from wherever he was, he’d call Mother every night. Often his calls were the only thing that alleviated her intense physical pain.”
Well, that told me about the Tony Awards, but how did Sardi’s equate to this story?
The New York Times
Vincent Sardi Jr. In 1991
By William Grimes
Published: January 5, 2007
Vincent Sardi Jr., who owned and managed Sardi’s restaurant, his father’s theatre-district landmark, for more than half a century and became, by wide agreement, the unofficial mayor of Broadway, died yesterday at a hospital in Berlin, Vt.. He was 91 and had lived in Warren, Vt., since retiring in 1997.
The cause was complications of a urinary tract infection, said Sean Ricketts, a grandson and manager at the restaurant.
Mr. Sardi ran one of the world’s most famous restaurants, a Broadway institution as central to the life of the theatre as actors, agents and critics. It was, the press agent Richard Maney once wrote, “the club, mess hall, lounge, post office, saloon and marketplace of the people of the theatre.”
Mr. Sardi understood theater people, loved them and was loved in return. He carried out-of-work actors, letting them run up a tab until their ship came in. (At one point, Sardi’s maintained 600 such accounts.)
He attended every show and made sure his headwaiters did the same, so that they could recognize even bit players and make a fuss over them. At times, he exercised what he called “a fine Italian hand,” seating a hungry actor near a producer with a suitable part to cast.
He commiserated with his patrons when a show failed, and rejoiced with them when the critics were kind. He distributed favors, theater tickets and food, rode on horseback with the local police, and acted as a spokesman, official and unofficial, for the theatre district.
Mr. Sardi was born on July 23, 1915, in Manhattan and spent his early childhood in a railroad flat on West 56th Street, where his parents took in show-business boarders. In 1921, his father took over a basement restaurant in a brownstone at 246 West 44th Street. He named it the Little Restaurant, but theater people called it Sardi’s, and so it became.
The family lived upstairs. When the building was razed in 1927 to make way for the St. James Theatre, Sardi’s moved to its current location, at 234 West 44th.St.
(I’m happy to say that I had Lunch and Dinner 4 times at Sardi’s, whilst I was in New York this time.)
Vincent Jr., whom his father called Cino, attended Holy Cross Academy on 43rd Street. He got a taste of the theatre at an early age, appearing as Pietro, an Italian urchin, in “The Master of the Inn” at the Little Theater when he was 10. The play closed quickly, but not before Vincent learned about the subtleties of the actor-director relationship. When he pointed out that an Italian would say “addio,” not “adios,” he was told to keep his opinions to himself and read the line as written.
In 1926, the Sardis moved to Flushing, Queens, where Vincent graduated from Flushing High School. He entered Columbia University intending to become a doctor, but failed the chemistry examination, in part because, short of pocket money, he had sold his textbook at Barnes & Noble so he could attend a dance. He transferred to Columbia Business School and earned a degree in 1937.
In the meantime, he began working in the family business on weekends, earning $14 a week. “My duties included stints at the cigarette counter, shifts at the cash register and a few attempts at being a Saturday headwaiter in the upstairs second-floor level,” he recalled in Playbill.
He also learned how to cater to Sardi’s unusual clientele. When Broderick Crawford was appearing in “Of Mice and Men,” Vincent was volunteered to take the actor’s Doberman for its nightly walk.
Mr. Sardi spent two years learning the food-service business at the Ritz-Carlton before rejoining Sardi’s in 1939 as dining-room captain. That year he married Carolyn Euiller. The marriage ended in 1946.
In 1942 he joined the Marine Corps, which took one look at his résumé and assigned him to run the bachelor officers’ mess at the Cherry Point Air Station in North Carolina. The next year he was sent to Okinawa, where he supervised a rest camp. He left the Marines as a captain. In 1946, he married Adelle Rasey, an actress. That marriage, too, ended in divorce.
In 1947 Vincent Sr. retired, and Vincent Jr. took over the restaurant, buying it from his father. Sardi’s was already renowned as a place where deals were made, gossip circulated and actors and producers made it their business to see and be seen. “The restaurant had a central place in the theatre,” said Gerald Schoenfeld, the president of the Shubert Organization. “You could walk in at lunch and do a day’s business, see people you hadn’t seen in a long time. You didn’t think of going anywhere else.”
Mr. Sardi, a tall, affable man with a military bearing, perfected the art of seating enemies far apart and putting friends and potential allies near one another. “He was always the soul of politesse, but where he seated you could be crucial to making a deal,” said the producer Arthur Cantor.
Mr. Sardi also knew how to keep temperamental actors happy. “You’ve got to be awfully careful with actors out of work,” he told an interviewer. “They’re very sensitive about their fading prestige, and I know darn well they scrimp to come in here, on the chance that they’ll be considered for a part. Boosting an actor’s ego with a table in a good location is simply my way of giving him a pat on the back.”
When he was not running the restaurant, Mr. Sardi raced cars, played polo and skied. He was also president of the Greater Times Square Committee in the 1960s and the Restaurant League of New York in the 1970s.
If Sardi’s was a club, its rules were mysterious. Only Mr. Sardi knew them, and only he could explain why, for many years, one of the best tables was held for Mr. and Mrs. Ira Katzenberg. The Katzenbergs, who by the early 1950s had attended virtually every Broadway opening for 30 years, took their seats at Sardi’s at 7:15 and ordered, without fail, a brandy and a bottle of Saratoga water. Mr. Sardi called them his favourite customers.
“People like them keep the theatre alive, and the theatre is their life,” he said. “The least we can do is give them the best table in the house.”
Mr. Sardi could do nothing about the autograph hounds and the photographers who crowded around the entrance. But inside the front doors, his word was law. Diners were not to be disturbed.
Sardi’s shone brightest on the opening night of a Broadway show, and in the 1960s, a show opened nearly every night. The ritual never varied. In a line that stretched down 44th Street, theatregoers, theatre insiders and celebrity watchers clamored for a table, hoping against hope to be seated on the first floor, where they could see cast members, producers and the playwright of the moment entering the restaurant after the curtain rang down. As the actors made their way to their tables, the diners would stand and applaud.
Once seated, the actors, producers and playwright would put on a brave face waiting for the reviews. The first 25 copies of The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune were rushed over to Sardi’s from the printing presses at midnight, with the review pages marked. Mr. Sardi would man the telephone, taking calls from friends of the cast, ticket brokers and newspaper columnists eager to get a read on the fate of the new play. If the reviews were poor, a pall descended over the dining room, and diners would slink out the door. If the reviews were good, it was Champagne all around and a celebration until the wee hours.
“All of us on the staff were caught up in each Broadway play,” Mr. Sardi wrote in Playbill. “We became involved in the raising of money, the casting of roles, the progress of rehearsals, and, after opening night, the success or failure of a play.”
In 1946, hoping to capture some of the excitement of Sardi’s, the radio station WOR created “Luncheon at Sardi’s,” an hour long program in which the host moved from table to table, microphone in hand, interviewing celebrities. In 1949, the show spawned a television spinoff, “Dinner at Sardi’s,” which failed to catch fire. The celebrities had a bad habit of using their air time for shameless self-promotion.
Undeterred, Mr. Sardi appeared as himself in two television dramas in the mid-50s, “Catch a Falling Star,” on “Robert Montgomery Presents,” and “Now, Where Was I?” a CBS production. He also turned out a cookbook, “Curtain Up at Sardi’s” (1957), which he wrote with Helen Bryson. It included, of course, the restaurant’s signature dish, cannelloni with Sardi sauce, a homey curiosity in which French crepes were stuffed with ground chicken, ground beef, spinach and Parmesan cheese, then topped with a velouté sauce enhanced with Hollandaise, sherry and whipped cream.
By the late 1950s, Sardi’s was grossing about $1 million a year, and in 1958, looking to expand, Mr. Sardi opened Sardi’s East, at 123 East 54th Street.
Mr. Sardi threw his all into the new venture. He arranged for theatregoers to be taken to Broadway on a London double-decker bus. He hired out-of-work actors as conductors. He lured his father out of retirement and installed him as manager. Sardi’s East never caught on, however, and Mr. Sardi sold it in 1968.
By the 1960s, the Times Square area was deteriorating, the theater district was becoming more dangerous and the vibrant world of culture that had nourished Sardi’s entered a period of decline. To make matters worse, in 1974, Mr. Sardi embarked on a ruinous venture, opening a 700-seat dinner theatre in Franklin Square, on Long Island. The theatre burned money for two years before closing.
At Sardi’s, critics complained, standards seemed to be slipping. “Those who go to the restaurant to observe celebrities will rarely be disappointed,” Mimi Sheraton wrote in a 1981 review for The Times. “Those who go for good food that is well served will rarely be satisfied.”
Gradually, Sardi’s became a tourist destination. The lunchtime business evaporated. The restaurant was showing its age. In September 1985, Mr. Sardi sold it for $6.2 million to two producers from Detroit, Ivan Bloch and Harvey Klaris, and the restaurateur Stuart Lichtenstein. They announced plans to bring back the old luster and open up a Sardi’s restaurant, hotel and casino in Atlantic City. Instead, they fell behind on payments, declared bankruptcy and closed the restaurant in June 1990.
Mr. Sardi, who had planned to spend a tranquil retirement in Vermont, resumed ownership of Sardi’s in 1991. He gave it a facelift, leaving intact the 700 or so caricatures of theatre people that hang on the walls. He also brought in serious chefs, who gradually improved the quality of the food, although Sardi’s, even in its heyday, never owed its reputation to its kitchen. As his health declined, Mr. Sardi spent less and less time at the restaurant, turning its operation over to his partner, Max Klimavicius, who will continue to run the business, a restaurant spokesman said yesterday.
Mr. Sardi is survived by his wife, the former June Keller; three children, Paul, of Coco Beach, Fla.; David, of San Diego; and Tabitha, of Manhattan; a sister, Anne Gina Sardi of Stamford, Conn.; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A daughter, Jennifer, died earlier.
The family plans to hold a memorial service at a date to be announced but at a location that is certain: Sardi’s.
So this was the History of Sardi’s and its Theatrical Involvement with the Tonys.
Now Angie and I were about to see the 69th Annual Tony Awards Ceremony, and what a truly magical evening on Broadway it turned out to be from beginning to end.
We had to be in our seats by 6:45pm as the doors closed at 7:00pm and the evening finally finished at around11:30p.m. The time just seemed to fly by.
Angie and I walked from the Hilton Hotel along Avenue of Americas to the Radio City Music Hall, it was just a short walk of a couple of blocks and the traffic was at a standstill. Everybody seemed to be heading for the Tonys, and all in Black Tie and the Ladies in either Cocktail or Evening Dresses.
The side entrance to the theatre, is where the red carpet is placed and that is where all the stars and the Interviews take place. So the main entrance is left clear for the general public.
I was completely confused because I thought the red carpet was in the front of the theatre. But of course where they do it makes sense. So the traffic can keep flowing.
How glamorous it all looked. Angie had booked us G Row Centre in the first mezzanine (which is Dress Circle to us Brits), so we could see everything.
Here’s a view from the Stage.
The size of the Radio City Music Hall just takes your breath away it is enormous, and there we were with a perfect view of everything. How lucky could one get? This photo just shows a small portion of the theatre.
Side view from the Auditorium, these 3 shots give you some idea of how large Radio City Music Hall really is.
There were 24 awards and each award had 4 or 5 Nominees, so the excitement in the audience was electric.
A Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Award went to Tommy Tune for his work as actor, dancer, director and choreographer.
You may recall him as the Long Legged Fiancée in the film “Hello Dolly”. Of course he’s a lot older now. But aren’t we all !
Some of the shows nominated performed a scene from their show. Of course,the arrangement and running of the show was flawless.
Chita Rivera who was nominated for a leading actress in a musical, and she also appeared in a scene from “The Visit” which was also nominated for best revival of a musical. This 82 year old star is amazing! But unfortunately “The Visit” lost out to “The King and I” in both cases.
Later in the week Angie and I saw “The Visit”, which was quite stunning and very different from most musicals with it’s dark theme. Chita Rivera was excellent, it was so great to see her again.
I remembered when Ray and I saw her originally in “Bye, Bye Birdie” with Dick Van Dyke in 1960, then later with Gwen Verdon in “Chicago” 1976, and later on in “Merlin” 1983 with Doug Henning in which she walked away with the show. All these shows we saw on Broadway.
Unfortunately, the Theatre business being what it is, “The Visit” closed on the 14th of June.
Chita Rivera in “The Visit” at the Tonys.
The British contingent won with “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” for the best play, and “Skylight” for best revival. But the evening really went to Helen Mirren for best performance by a leading actress in “The Audience”, and what a performance it is. Later in the week Angie and I went to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre to see the show and after seeing it, I think that Helen Mirren deserves a blog all to herself.
Of course, it’s completely out of focus, but I assure you it was Helen Mirren, and you can see all the illuminated posters for “The Audience” around her. I’m useless with a camera, but there she is at the Tonys accepting her award for her performance in “The Audience”.
So by the end of the evening I returned to the Hilton happy but hungry as everywhere all the restaurants seemed to have suddenly closed.