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Secrets of the Tonys (Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Secrets of the Tonys

10 surprising facts about the awards that celebrate the best on the Broadway stage, from the lady who inspired them to the award's evolution from mere trinket (cigarette lighter, money clip) to hefty medallion

L.A. may have the Emmys, the Grammys and the Oscars; but New York City puts the T in “EGOT” with the Tony Awards, which annually honor excellence on Broadway stages. Who’s up for the medallion statue this year?  With the hip-hop inspired musical, Hamilton,setting new nomination records and making Tony history, there’s a new buzz and excitement around this year.  The winners will be revealed when James Corden hosts the 70th annual ceremony on Sunday, June 12 at 8pm during a live telecast on CBS.  To further fuel anticipation, here are 10 lesser-known facts about Broadway’s greatest annual show.


Antoinette Perry

Antoinette Perry, for whom the Tonys are named

Why it’s called a “Tony”
“Tony” was the nickname of Antoinette Perry (1888-1946), a highly successful Broadway actor, director and producer for whom the awards are named. Perry’s Broadway debut was in the play Mrs. Temple’s Telegram in 1905. She went on to direct plays such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvey, and she was one of the founders and the chairwoman of the American Theater Wing, which seeks to educate the public about theater. Perry, a widow of an oil magnate, was also a great philanthropist. For all of Perry’s success, however, she had the distinction of starring in one of Broadway’s longest running failures, a poorly reviewed, poorly attended play titled The Ladder, which ran for 794 performances.


Sardis in the Theater District

The idea for the awards were born at Sardi’s restaurant in the Theater District (Photo: Afagen/Flickr CC)

The Tonys were born at Sardi’s restaurant
Antoinette Perry passed away from a heart attack in 1946, two years into her production of Harvey. A group of her close friends met at Sardi’s in the Theater District to discuss ways to preserve her memory. It was at the restaurant that the award was born, and a nomination committee that included theater luminaries such as Helen Hayes and Brooks Atkinson, was formed. Vincent Sardi, the proprietor of the restaurant was one of the first to receive a Tony in 1947. Though he wasn’t a Broadway performer, the award was to recognize the restaurateur’s tremendous support of the theater community.


Audrey Hepburn, Dolores Gray and Jo Van Fleet

Audrey Hepburn, Dolores Gray and Jo Van Fleet display their Tony awards after a Broadway award dinner in 1954 (Photo: William Quinn/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

The ceremony has evolved, as have the awards given (it was once a cigarette lighter!)
The first Tony Awards were held in the Waldorf-Astoria on Easter Sunday 1947, and 1,000 attendees enjoyed a dinner, dancing and entertainment from stage greats such as Mickey Rooney and Ethel Waters. The first and only time the awards were presented without entertainment was in 1966, to observe the passing of Helen Menken, then chairwoman of the American Theater Wing. Today, upwards of 5,000 or more  gather for the ceremony and gala production that grows more extravagant each year.

The actual award has gone through transformations as well. Before it became the recognizable “gong”-like medallion statue, the awards were tokens such as money clips, cigarette lighters and compacts. In 1949 a contest was held for a new design. The current statue — the medallion with comedy and tragedy masks on one side and an image of Antoinette Perry on the other, was the winning entry.


Standing in line for a Broadway show

People stand in line outside the St. James Theatre in New York in 2001 to purchase tickets for the Broadway production of ‘The Producers’ (Photo: Spencer Platt/Newsmakers)

More people watch Broadway shows than sports in NYC
According to Charlotte St. Martin, president of  The Broadway League, this is a fact. “More people see a Broadway show than see all of the local professional sports teams combined,” she says. “That includes the Knicks, the Nets, the Jets, the Giants, the Rangers, the Yankees, the Mets combined. The annual attendance for a sports team is between 8.5 and 9.5 million. For Broadway, the annual average is about 12 million.”


Jennifer Ehle with her mother, actress Rosemary Harris at the the 54th annual Tony Awards in 2000 (Photo: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Tony awards run in some families
Tonys run in a few Broadway bloodlines. Amanda Plummer, for example, Tony winner for Agnes of God, is the daughter of two-time Tony winners Tammy Grimes (The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Private Lives) and Christopher Plummer (Cyrano and Barrymore). Richard Rodgers (The Sound of Music) and daughter Mary Rodgers (Once Upon a Mattress) were both nominated in the same category — Best Composer — in the same year, 1960. He won. Years later, Richard’s grandson, and Mary’s son, Adam Guettel took home two Tonys for Best Score and Best Orchestrations for A Light in the Piazza in 2005. In 2000, daughter Jennifer Ehle (The Real Thing) and her mother Rosemary Harris (Waiting in the Wings) were both nominated for Best Actress. Ehle won. Lynn Redgrave (Shakespeare for my Father) and niece Natasha Richardson (Anna Christie) were both nominated for best actress in 1993. They were both bested by the unrelated Madeline Kahn for her performance in The Sisters Rosensweig.


Gregory Hines, Harold Prince

Gregory Hines and Harold Prince at the 42nd annual Tony Awards in 1968 (Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage)

Tony history’s biggest winners
Producer/director Harold “Hal” Prince has the distinction of having earned the most Tonys, with 21 to his name for his golden touch on hits such as The Pajama Game, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Evita and Phantom of the Opera. “His staff told us that they actually had to move the Tonys out of his office because they were such a distraction,” says Heather Hitchens, executive director of the American Theater Wing. “People kept looking past him at all his Tony Awards.” There is currently a three-way tie for most-awarded female: Julie Harris, Angela Lansbury and Audra MacDonald have each won five. Harris is the most nominated performer with 10. The Producers took home 12 Tonys in 2001, the honor of most Tonys ever for a musical; while Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia in 2007 is the most winning non-musical, with seven awards.


Brad Bartell, Ed Strong, Joop van den Ende, Michaell David and Robin DeLevita

Brad Bartell, Ed Strong, Joop van den Ende, Michaell David and Robin DeLevita, the producers of the musical ’42nd Street’ at the 55th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in 2001 (Photo: Scott Gries/ImageDirect)

Winning can be costly …
… if you’re one of many producers. According to The New York Times, Tonys are only given gratis to two lead producers. Shows such as the hit Kinky Boots, however, have 20 investors (aka producers). If the additional producers want their very own award, they need to shell out $2,500 per person. The money goes to finance the costly production of the award ceremonies, which the Times surmises is “at least in the high seven figures.”


Neil Patrick Harris, Mike Tyson

Host Neil Patrick Harris and Mike Tyson perform onstage at the 67th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in 2013 (Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Controversies have added to the drama over the years
A few controversies over the years have set the stage for some drama. Julie Andrews, for example, withdrew her nomination for Best Actress in a musical in 1996, out of solidarity for the “snubbed” cast and crew of Victor/Victoria. The winning musical Contact raised the question in 2000 about what defines a musical, as a dance performance with pre-recorded music and no singing. And, did Neil Patrick Harris drop the N-word to Mike Tyson, during the opening musical number? His reps quickly sent out this statement after an accusation from the Daily Mail: “Neil unequivocally did not use derogatory language in the opening number of the Tony Awards, and for any outlet to indicate otherwise is completely irresponsible and utterly disrespectful.”


Cynthia Nixon

Actress Cynthia Nixon with her Best Performance By a Leading Actress in a Play award at the 60th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in 2006 (Photo: Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

Did you know these television and film actors have won Tonys?
Al Pacino in 1977 for The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel; Mad Men‘s Robert Morse  for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1962 and again for Tru in 1990; Law and Order‘s Jerry Orbach for Promises, Promises in 1969; Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander for Jerome Robbins Broadway in 1989; Glenn Close for Death and the Maiden in 1992 and Sunset Boulevard in 1995; Sex and the City‘s Cynthia Nixon for Rabbit Hole in 2006; Denzel Washington in 2010 for Fences and Catherine Zeta Jones for A Little Night Music, also in 2010.


Tickets to the Tonys

Tickets to the 67th annual Tony Awards in 2013 (Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Nexxus)

You don’t have to be in the industry to attend the Tonys
But you do have to be a bit lucky. A limited amount of tickets — about 200 — are available for purchase in the balcony.  Last year, tickets went quickly and cost $495. (Tickets to the very first Tony awards ceremony in 1947, as a point of interest, cost $7). Or, you can watch the telecast in the comfort of your home. Annual ratings have varied  with viewership in 2013: 7.3 million, 2014: 6.3 million and 2015: 6.9 million.

Click here to save on tickets to the Tony nominees.

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