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Celebrating Women's History Month: Women in Theatre Through the Decades: 1940s-1950s

Today we're learning all about the accomplishments of women like Antoinette Perry, Stella Adler, Agnes de Mille, Helen Hayes and more!

It is officially Women's History Month, and BroadwayWorld is celebrating and honoring the impact and accomplishments of women in theatre.

With Women in Theatre Through the Decades, we will be highlighting the vital role that women have played in theatre history, showcasing those who paved the way and who continue to make history today.

This week, we are highlighting the accomplishments of women in theatre throughout the 1940s and the 1950s!

The 1940s

Antoinette Perry

The Tony Awards, or the Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, were created in 1947 by a committee of the American Theatre Wing, headed by Brock Pemberton. The Tony Awards' namesake, Antoinette "Tony" Perry (1888-1946), was an actress, producer and theatre director who was also co-founder and secretary of the American Theatre Wing. Perry's official biography on the Tony Awards website states, "Pemberton memorialized her as 'an individualist who met life head on, dramatized life, and gave of a generous nature.' He proposed an award in her honor for distinguished stage acting and technical achievement. At the initial event in 1947, as he handed out an award, he called it a Tony. The name stuck."

Stella Adler

Stella Adler (1901 - 1992) was an American actress and acting teacher, best known as the founder of the renowned Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City. Throughout the 30s and 40s, Adler acted on Broadway, studied under Konstantin Stanislavski, and worked alongside Sanford Meisner, Elia Kazan, and others with The Group Theatre. In 1949, Adler founded Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and went on to teach some of the greatest actors of all time, including Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Dolores del Río, Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch, Martin Sheen, Manu Tupou, Harvey Keitel, Melanie Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich, Warren Beatty and more.

Margo Jones

Margo Jones (1911 - 1955), established the first regional professional company, opening Theatre '47 in Dallas in 1947. Nicknamed "The Texas Tornado" Jones was a well-known stage director and producer who influenced the early careers of some of America's best-known playwrights, including Tennessee Williams, Robert E. Lee, William Inge, Jerome Lawrence, and Joseph Hayes. Jones was best known for launching the American regional theater movement (she staged 85 plays during her Dallas career) and for introducing the theater-in-the-round concept in Dallas, Texas.

Ingrid Bergman and Helen Hayes

Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), perhaps best known to modern audiences for her role in Casablanca, was actually the first co-winner (there were no nominees announced at the Tonys until 1956) of the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play in 1947, along with EGOT winner Helen Hayes (1990-1993). Ingrid Bergman won for her performance in Joan of Lorraine, and Hayes won for her performance in Happy Birthday.

Agnes De Mille

Celebrating Women's History Month: Women in Theatre Through the Decades: 1940s-1950s Agnes De Mille (1905-1993) changed the role that dance played in musical theatre, having choreographed the dream ballet in Oklahoma! on Broadway in 1943, Bloomer Girl in 1944, Carousel in 1945, Allegro in 1947 (she was the director as well as choreographer), Brigadoon in 1947, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949. Agnes De Mille was the first co-winner of the inaugural Tony Award for Best Choreography for her work on Brigadoon.

The 1950s

Juanita Hall

Juanita Hall (1901-1968) was a musical theatre and film actress, who became the first black person to win a Tony Award, for her role as Bloody Mary in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific in 1950. Hall went on to reprise her role in the 1958 screen version. Hall starred as Madam Liang in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song on Broadway in 1958 (a role she reprised for the film version in 1961). She also starred in the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers in which performed Harold Arlen's Slide Boy Slide. In addition to her roles on Broadway, Hall was a regular performer in clubs in Greenwich Village.

Shirley Booth and Audrey Hepburn

Five actresses have won a Tony and an Oscar in the same year. Two of those history-making instances occurred during the 19050s! Shirley Booth (1898- 1992), a winner of the Triple Crown of Acting, won a Tony for The Time of the Cuckoo and an Oscar for Come Back, Little Sheba in 1953. The iconic Oscar-winner Audrey Hepburn (1929- 1993) won a Tony for Ondine and an Oscar for Roman Holiday in 1954.

Gwen Verdon

Gwen Verdon (1925-200) and Angela Lansbury have each won four Tony Awards in the musical categories - more than any other actress- and Verdon won them all in the 1950s! One of the most-lauded stage performers of all time, Verdon won the Tony Award for Featured Actress in Can-Can in 1954, and the Tony Award for Leading Actress for Damn Yankees in 1956, New Girl in Town in 1958 and Redhead in 1959. Verdon reprised her role as Lola in the 1958 film version of Damn Yankees, famously cementing her legacy on screen with her performance of "Whatever Lola Wants."

Frances Goodrich

Frances Goodrich (1890-1984) was the first female author to win Best Play at the Tony Awards, which she won with her partner and husband Albert Hackett for The Diary of Anne Frank in 1956. Goodrich went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with Hackett the same year. Goodrich and Hackett received the nomination at the Academy Awards for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay for the musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1955).

Lorraine Hansberry

In 1959, Lorraine Hansberry became the first African American female playwright to be produced on Broadway with A Raisin in the Sun. At 29, Hansberry became the youngest American playwright and the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. A Raisin in the Sun went on to receive four Tony Award nominations, including the Tony Award for Best Play.


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