The effect a Tony Award has on a Broadway production is similar to what an Oscar can do for a Hollywood film. It’s the industry’s highest honor, and can make or break a play when it is given—or not. Although it may seem like a mainstay now, the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, most commonly known as the Tony Awards, has only been handed out by the American Theatre Wing since 1947.
Named for actress, stage director and philanthropist Antoinette Perry, the first awards took place on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947, in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. Unfortunately, Perry had passed away. It was her work partner Brock Pemberton, a theatre producer and director, that first suggested the award be named in her honor. Perry was a producer and director who was a trailblazer for women in theatre, not letting the male-dominated field stop her for pursuing her dream, and later, her philanthropic work.
Even the award medallion itself used to pay homage to Perry. Designed by Herman Rosse, one side used to carry a relief of the profile of its namesake until it was changed to show the winner’s name, award category, production and year. The other side displays the comedy and tragedy masks that have long been associated with theatre and acting. In 1967, the medallion was once again changed, as it was mounted to a black base.
Pemberton was not only responsible for the awards being held in Perry’s honor, but he also gave the awards their more commonly known name. After he off-handedly referred to the brass medallion as a “Tony” the nickname stuck.