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10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Tony Awards

Category General

|by David Sheward |

Discover 10 fascinating facts about Broadway’s biggest honor

The Tony Awards may be the theater world’s most famous event, but they hold many juicy secrets, stories and history. Read on to find out more!

Tony Award statuette (Photo: The Tony Awards)

Tony Award statuette (Photo: The Tony Awards)

The Tony namesake
The awards are named for Antoinette Perry, a beloved actress-director-producer, who was head of the American Theater Wing. In addition to her work with the Wing, she is best known for directing the long-running Broadway hit Harvey. When Perry passed away in 1946, the Wing started the awards in her honor. The first ceremony was held in 1947 at a dinner-dance at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and broadcast over local radio. The first winners included Arthur Miller, Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes, Jose Ferrer and David Wayne.

Biggest blooper
Probably the biggest blooper in Tony history happened in 1991 when presenter Anthony Quinn opened the envelope for Best Director of a Musical and announced, “The winner is Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon… Oh my God! It’s the wrong card.” When Simon was later correctly announced as the winning author of the Best Play, he quipped, “I was in the bathroom when Anthony Quinn was on. Did anything interesting happen?”

The musicals with the most Tony nominations and awards
Hamilton has the most nominations with 16, but The Producers still holds the record for the most wins with 12.

Strangest Tony nomination
All seven of the performers who played the Van Trapp Family Singers in the original production of The Sound of Music received a joint nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical even though two of them were boys.

Performers who have won big
The honor of most Tony wins is shared by Audra McDonald and Julie Harris with six each. McDonald has also won in each of the four acting categories. Her wins are for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (Actress in a Play); The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (Actress in a Musical); A Raisin in the Sun (Featured Actress in a Play); Ragtime (Featured Actress in a Musical); Master Class (Featured Actress in a Play); and Carousel (Featured Actress in a Musical). Harris has won five Tonys for Best Actress in a Play (for The Belle of Amherst, The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, Forty Carats, The Lark and I Am a Camera) and a 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award. Director-producer Harold Prince (Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, etc.) has the most Tonys overall with 20.

Who votes for the Tonys?
There are approximately 846 eligible voters, a number that fluctuates slightly from year to year. These include voting members of The Broadway League and the board of directors and designated members of the advisory committee of the American Theatre Wing, along with members of the governing boards of Actors' Equity Association; the Dramatists Guild; SDC, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society; United Scenic Artists; and the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers. Other eligible voters include members of the Theatrical Council of the Casting Society of America, the New York Drama Critics' Circle, the board/council of the National Association of Talent Representatives and the Tony Awards Nominating Committee.

Over 50 years on national television
The Tonys were first nationally television in 1967 (in previous years, they had been seen only on local New York stations). The first telecast was on ABC and featured numbers from nominated shows Cabaret, I Do! I Do! and The Apple Tree. Mary Martin and Robert Preston, stars of I Do! I Do!, were the hosts, and presenters included Lauren Bacall, Lee Remick, Kirk Douglas, Harry Belafonte, Carol Burnett, Zero Mostel and Angela Lansbury.

Hosts with the mosts
Angela Lansbury has hosted the Tonys the most times at five. Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman tie for second with four each.

Tony turndowns
Julie Andrews refused her Best Actress in a Musical nomination for Victor/Victoria because she was the only one from the show to receive Tony love. In addition, V/V did not get a Best Musical nod and none of the design elements were honored. Andrews announced she would stand with her “egregiously overlooked” comrades and reject her nomination. Her name remained on the ballot anyway, and the award went to Donna Murphy for The King and I. In previous years, William Daniels of 1776 and Douglas Turner Ward of The River Niger rejected their Featured Actor nominations because they felt their roles were leading ones.

The Tonys celebrate Broadway only
The Tony Awards are only for Broadway productions. The only Off-Broadway show to be nominated was The Threepenny Opera which received a nom and win for Lotte Lenya’s featured performance. This was in 1956 when there weren’t as many Off-Broadway productions and before the Tony eligibility rules were formalized. The Drama Desks, Outer Critics and Drama League Awards include on and Off-Broadway, while the Obies and the Lortels honor only Off-Broadway shows.

Stay tuned for our Tony Awards coverage – and check out the top Broadway shows in May.

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