April 6, 1947– The First Tony Awards
Presented by the American Theatre Wing, the awards celebrate “Outstanding contributions to the current American Theatre Season.” According to the failing The NY Times 70 years ago: “The awards do not designate their recipients as ‘best’ or ‘first’ but the classifications in which they are given will be elastic from year to year.” That only lasted until the third Tony Awards in 1949, when nominations and winners were presented in something resembling how they are done in this century.
The ceremony hosted by director/producer and Tony Awards founder, Brock Pemberton, was broadcast on local radio station WOR and the Mutual Radio Network.
The awards got their nickname, “Tonys”, during that ceremony itself when Pemberton handed out an award and called it a “Toni”, referring to the nickname of Antoinette Perry, co-founder of the American Theatre Wing.
Musicals represented were The Chocolate Soldier, Street Scene, Brigadoon, Oklahoma!, Call Me Mister, Carousel, and Finian’s Rainbow, but none of them could be nominated because, while although still playing in their original runs at the time of the awards, they had opened too soon to qualify for the awards (Oklahoma! had opened in 1943, and Carousel in 1945).
José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac
Fredric March in Years Ago
Ingrid Bergman in Joan Of Lorraine
Helen Hayes in Happy Birthday
Patricia Neal in Another Part Of The Forest
David Wayne in Finian’s Rainbow
Director: Elia Kazan for All My Sons
Costume Designer- Lucinda Ballard
Choreographers- Agnes de Mille and Michael Kidd
Composer- Kurt Weill
They gave out some really nutty awards, including for audience members, like “Mr. and Mrs. Ira Katzenberg– for enthusiasm as inveterate first-nighters” and restaurateur Vincent Sardi, Sr., “For providing a transient home and comfort station for theatre folk at Sardi’s for 20 years”
Television coverage began in 1956 on the Du Mont Network, but only shown locally on NYC Channel 5. In 1967, The Tony Awards were broadcast for a national audience by CBS, and I was watching!
Those first awards were an initialed sterling silver compact case for the ladies, and cigarette cases for the gentlemen.