The History of the Tony Award

Comments (0) March 2018 KW Magazine, Women In History

The Oscar nominees for 2018 have been announced and shortly after this column appears in March 2018, we will know the winners.  Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tonys.  These awards are among the most significant presented to entertainers.  Did you know that the Tony award is named for a woman?  The Tony award is actually the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre.  Antoinette Perry was an actress and director, as well as an activist and humanitarian.  The Tony award was established in 1947, the year after she died, by the American Theatre Wing, which she-cofounded.  It memorializes her efforts to encourage young talent.  During World War II, she raised money for the war effort, provided assistance to wounded serviceman, and provided entertainment in auditoriums and to troops in hospital wards.  Perry has been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.  As a salute to Antoinette Perry, in this month’s column, we feature women who have won Tony awards for their work in the theater. 

Jessica Tandy

A two-time Tony winner, Jessica Tandy was both a stage and film actress.  She made her theater debut in London in 1927 and also worked in British films.  After moving to New York in 1940, she began appearing on Broadway.  In 1948, she won her first Leading Actress Tony for A Streetcar Named Desire.  Over the course of her stage career, she would be nominated four times, winning three.  Tandy also received awards for her excellence in film.  She became the oldest actress to win an Oscar in 1990 when she won for Best Actress in Driving Miss Daisy; she had been previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Fried Green Tomatoes.  Married to Hume Cronyn with whom she often partnered in varied television, theatre and film projects, Tandy was in the entertainment business for over 60 years.

Helen Hayes

Universally described as the “First Lady of the American Theater”, Helen Hayes is one of twelve actors (four of them women) to have achieved EGOT – the acronym describes winning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.  She made her theater debut at age five and her film debut at age ten.  She also worked in the theater during the years she was in primary and secondary school.  Her first Tony was in 1947 for Lead Actress in the play Happy Birthday.  She continued to appear in stage productions through the early 1970s.  Her two Oscars were in 1932 (Best Actress) for The Sin of Madelon Claudet and in 1971 (Best Supporting Actress) for Airport.  Hayes received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan in 1986, the National Medal of the Arts, has a theater named after her in the Broadway Theater District and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Rita Moreno

Another EGOT entertainer, and the very first to attain EGOT, Rita Moreno was acting on the Broadway stage by age thirteen and in films shortly thereafter.  Her breakthrough film role was playing Anita in West Side Story, a role Chita Rivera had originated on Broadway.  Discouraged by being stereotyped, Moreno did not take another film role for seven years.  Her Tony Award came in 1975 for The Ritz, for which she won the Best Featured Actress Tony.  Her television career included seven years as Milly, the helper on the children’s show, The Electric Company which led to her Grammy in 1973 for Best Album for Children.  Moreno’s many honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors.

In 2004, Phylicia Rashad became the first African-American woman to win the Best Actress Tony.  The Tony was for her

Phylicia Rashad

work in Raisin in the Sun (by playwright Lorraine Hansberry – inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame).  Rashad is best known for the television show The Cosby Show, in which she played Clair Huxtable, an attorney, whose husband was played by Bill Cosby.  She was nominated for two Emmys for her work on this sitcom.  Rashad’s younger sister is the actress and dancer, Debbie Allen.  Rashad is still active in television, film, and theater; she held the inaugural Denzel Washington Chair of Theatre at Fordham University in 2011.

Whoopi Goldberg

Also an EGOT recipient, Whoopi Goldberg was the second black woman to win an Oscar (the first was Hattie McDaniel who won in 1940 for Gone with the Wind).  Goldberg’s first theater work was a one-woman show on Broadway in 1984 and 1985, the recording of which won a Grammy.  The Broadway show led to her being cast in the movie, The Color Purple, for which she earned her first Oscar nomination in 1986 (Best Actress).  Active in television, film, and on the stage, Goldberg won the Tony Award for Best Musical for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2002.  Goldberg has participated in numerous charitable events and lent her comedic talent as host, co-host and anchor to a number of them.  She won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and was named a Disney Legend in 2017.

Women contribute to our lives in so many ways including as we describe in this article, in the arts as entertainers.  The women profiled above and many other women, almost all of them women we have not heard about and not learned about in school across all fields of endeavor, are profiled in our book, Her Story:  A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America.  Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories and write women back into history!

Jill TietjenJill S. Tietjen, PE, is an author, national speaker, and an electrical engineer.  After 40 years in the electric utility industry, her professional focus is now on women’s advocacy, worldwide.  She blogs for The Huffington Post, speaks nationally on the accomplishments of women, nominates women for awards, and continues to write books (8 published to date), following in the footsteps of her bestselling and award-winning book, Her Story:  A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America (written with Charlotte Waisman).  She is a frequent keynote speaker as her positive energy and her ability to relate to the audience result in inspired and energized listeners.  The recipient of many awards, her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 remains one of her most treasured.


Charlotte WaismanCharlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.

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