Mary Antoinette Perry
June 27, 1888
|Died||June 28, 1946 (aged 58)|
New York, New York
|Occupation||Actress, stage director and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing|
|Spouse(s)||Frank W. Frueauff (1909–1922)|
Born in Denver, Colorado, she spent her childhood aspiring to replicate the thespian artistry of her aunt and uncle, Mildred Hall and George Wessels, who were both well-respected touring actors. She performed at the Elitch Theater near Denver when she was only 11 years old. Perry's father, William Perry, was opposed to his daughter becoming an actress, but he was not against her pursuing a career in music, so sent her to Miss Ely's School in New York to study voice and piano.
In June 1905 she made her theatrical debut in Mrs. Temple's Telegram in Chicago. One year later she appeared in the same play in her New York debut. She appeared opposite David Warfield in Music Master in 1906 when she was only 18.
Following Frank Frueauff's death in 1922 of a heart attack, Perry returned to the stage. In 1924 she appeared in Zona Gale's Mr. Pitt. She appeared notably in George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's Minick that same year. She took up directing in 1928. In partnership with Brock Pemberton she produced several successful plays, including: Divorce Me Dear, Ceiling Zero, Red Harvest, Strictly Dishonorable, Personal Appearance (Lawrence Riley's breakthrough hit), and Kiss the Boys Goodbye. Their most famous production was probably the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mary Chase classic Harvey, which Perry directed and which enjoyed enormous success on Broadway and as a film starring James Stewart. According to Ellis Nassour:
- Perry became a stage director at a time when women working offstage in theater were often relegated to positions as costumers or dressers. She established herself as a director with Preston Sturges in "Strictly Dishonorable" in 1929, in which her daughter Margaret debuted. “Tony was a gifted and versatile actress, and one of the best directors the American theater has produced,” noted Helen Hayes.
Perry helped found, and was chairwoman and secretary of, the American Theatre Wing, which operated the Stage Door Canteens during World War II, providing entertainment to servicemen in several American cities. After her death, her friends and colleagues took action to memorialize her contribution to the high standards of American theatre. Brock Pemberton suggested that the American Theatre Wing create a series of awards to be given in her honor. Since 1947, the Antoinette Perry Awards have been given annually for distinguished achievement in theatre, and are one of the theatre world's most coveted honors. They are universally known by their nickname, the Tony Awards.
In 2011 Perry was featured as an historical figure when The Neo-Futurists devised a show about the longest-running failure in Broadway history, J. Frank Davis' The Ladder. The Neo-Futurist show was called Chalk & Saltwater: The Ladder Project. Chalk & Saltwater explored the individuals involved in the failed show (this included Edgar B. Davis, the play's backer and "angel", Brock and Murdock Pemberton, and J. Frank Davis and their lives before and after The Ladder's 789-performance run. Perry was a member of the original cast of The Ladder, but left the production prior to its close.
Perry had three daughters: Margaret, who became an actress; Virginia, who died as an infant; and Elaine, who became a stage producer in the 1950s.
Perry was a devout Christian Scientist. Despite signs of heart disease, she refused to see a doctor. The day after her 58th birthday, on June 28, 1946, she died of a heart attack. She is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City.
- Ellis Nassour, "Perry, Antoinette" American National Biography (1999) https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1800930
- "Antoinette Perry | American actress and director". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- "THE WOMAN BEHIND THE "TONY": April '97 American History Feature | HistoryNet". HistoryNet. 1997-08-19. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- "DOUBLE TAKE: What the 'H' is that? – Colorado Conundrums – Sentinel Colorado". Sentinel Colorado. 2018-09-15. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- Ellis Nassour, 1999.
- "Learn about Antoinette Perry, the namesake of the Tony Awards". TonyAwards.com. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- Chalk & Saltwater: The Ladder Project Archived 2012-03-20 at the Wayback Machine
- "Portrait of Murdock Pemberton". Enfield Distribution Co. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, Antoinette Perry-Frueauff
- "Woodlawn Cemetery – Big Apple Greeter". Big Apple Greeter. 2014-08-21. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
- Fjelde, Rolf. "In Memoriam: Einar Østvedt and Antoinette Perry." Ibsen News and Comment (1981): 2-4. online
- Nassour, Ellis. "Perry, Antoinette" American National Biography (1999) https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1800930
- New York Times, 29 June 1946, obituary
- Robinson, Alice M. , and Vera Mowry Roberts, et al. eds. Notable Women in the American Theatre: A Biographical Dictionary (1989)