After 32 years, Isabelle Stevenson stepped down as president of the American Theater Wing, the organization co-founded by Antoinette Perry, a leading 30s and 40s actress, producer and director. Stevenson is now chair of the Wing board, the first time since Perry's death in 1946 that this position has been filled. (Perry's nickname was Tony, and she is the namesake of the annual Broadway honors.)

Mrs. Stevenson, who was awarded a Special 1999 Tony for Lifetime Achievement in recognition of her Wing leadership and innovative school programs, recalled some of her favorite Tony moments.

"What leaps to mind immediately," she says, "is Michael Jeter's 1990 acceptance speech, when he won Featured Actor in a Musical (for Grand Hotel). It was an emotional moment as this tiny man leaped to the stage and reflected on the change in his personal fortunes. He was a recovering addict and had all but given up on theater as a means of making a living. Now he was holding a Tony, and, oh, from that moment on, how his fortunes changed!"

Mrs. Stevenson vividly recalls "an echo of that moment" when Ron Rifkin accepted as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for the Roundabout revival of Cabaret, the first singing role for the off-Broadway and Broadway star. "Here was an actor who had struggled," says Mrs. Stevenson, "to achieve a certain status as an actor but had to give it up and become a clothing salesman to make a living. But the siren call of theater drew him back to the boards (and movies, too). Seeing him there, holding his Tony, was a powerful affirmation of the determination to succeed at something you love."
Stevenson says that in this TV age of the mandatory 30-second "Thank You" speech, brought on by strict time limits set by the network, "I'd be delighted if the actors' acceptance speeches could go on longer, and they would have to be drowned out [as even she was!] by music cues."

Another moment Mrs. Stevenson cherishes was at the 1958 Tonys, when Anne Bancroft, winning Best Actress in a Play for Two For The Seesaw, excitedly ran the gauntlet to the stage. "She arrived breathlessly to take her Tony from the hands of Laurence Olivier," recalls Mrs. Stevenson. "She got to the podium and immediately looked into Larry's gorgeous eyes and sighed, 'I wish you came with it!'"


Key Subjects: 
Isabelle Stevenson, Tony Awards; Michael Jeter; Ron Rifkin; Anne Bancroft
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).
April 2000