American stage actress and director Antoinette Perry, (1888-1946), c. 1910.
CSU Archives—Everett Collection
By Lily Rothman
June 8, 2015

When the first Tony Awards were given in 1947, it wasn’t quite the polished production that theater fans have come to expect.

The ceremony was on a much smaller scale, and the actual awards were decidedly quirkier, as TIME reported:

The American Theater Wing handed out memorial awards 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 theater folk. . . .” The men got gold money clips, the women Tiffany compacts with “little automatic windshield wipers on the mirrors.”

When Perry died of heart disease in 1946, TIME remembered her as “one of Broadway’s few successful woman directors. […] Tony Perry, ever the angel of tyro actors, was the wartime guiding spirit of the American Theatre Wing, left her heart at its seven Stage Door Canteens across the nation.”

The Stage Door Canteens had been established by the American Theatre Wing’s War Service, as a place where A-list stage stars could volunteer to provide free entertainment for servicemen. Perry had been one of the founders of the Wing, and helped shepherd it into a new post-World War II role. Though it had been founded to help the theater world help the war effort, it became an organization dedicated to helping the theater world.

It didn’t take long for the Antoinette Perry Awards to be shortened to the Tony Awards—but, though the Tonys are rarely ever referred to by their longer original name these days, the official name of the awards has never changed.

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