Tony Awards named for Colorado native
SALT WORKS RANCH, PARK COUNTY -The noise and bright lights of Broadway seem a long way from this high valley ranch in the heart of Colorado. But when the curtain goes up on the Tony Awards, the distance grows small for the descendants of Antoinette Perry, the indomitable lady for whom the awards are named.
The historic Salt Works Ranch in Park County is still held by the family of founder Charles Hall, who homesteaded the place in 1862. The ranch became known not only for its production of salt, but also for the hospitality it offered travelers, including governors and railroad presidents.
The Hall family prospered, then moved to Leadville, where Charles and Mary raised three children – Charles Jr., Minnie and Mildred – while still owning and operating the ranch in Park County.
The Hall children were well-
educated at Wolfe Hall In Denver. Later, Minnie studied art in Chicago, while Mildred studied theater and became an actress. Mildred married a fellow actor, and Minnie married Denver attorney William Russell Perry.
While most of the family returned often to the Salt Works Ranch, Minnie, because she had a weak heart, spent most of her life in Denver. There, she raised the couple’s only child, Mary Antoinette, born June 27, 1888.
According to Antoinette’s granddaughter, Clare Fanning, who now lives on the Salt Works Ranch, the little girl was an actress from an early age.
Fanning reveals a photo of a child of about six, clad in a long, lacy dress and wearing a mane of bouncy blond curls. In the photo, the girl is striking a “stage” pose for the camera. “She loved acting,” Fanning said. Antoinette was a favorite subject for her artist mother, and a number of portraits are still in the family.
“I wanted to be an actress as soon as I could lisp,” Antoinette once wrote. “I didn’t say I was going to become an actress. I felt I was one.”
When Antoinette Perry was about 16, she successfully debuted on the New York stage.
In 1909, however, she gave up acting to marry Frank Wheatcroft Frueauff, president of the Denver Gas and Electric Company, at the family home on East Colfax Avenue in Denver.
The young couple moved to Manhattan – and into the elite social circles – when Frueauff became a partner in Henry L. Doherty and Co., a vice president and cofounder of Cities Service Co. and served on the board of nearly 100 companies.
In 1922, however, Frank died, leaving Antoinette and their daughters, Margaret and Elaine, without a will.
While there was no doubt Antoinette was very well-provided-for, she became bored with the social life and returned to the stage. Teaming with producer Brock Pemberton, she began directing. When, in 1944, her close friend Mary Chase wrote “Harvey,” a play about a man with a six-foot rabbit for a pal, it became one of the most successful of Antoinette’s many productions.
During her successes on Broadway, Antoinette, whom everyone called Tony, also became a driving force in the American Theatre Wing, mentoring young actors and actresses and organizing food relief, war bond efforts and the famous Stage Door Canteens that provided entertainment to the troops.
When Tony died of a heart attack in 1946, those in the close-knit theater world wanted to establish some memorial in her honor.
“They first thought of a statue, but someone didn’t think she would have liked the pigeons,” granddaughter Clare said. “Then they hit upon the idea of presenting awards for distinguished stage achievements and naming it for her. That’s how the American Theatre Wing established the Antoinette Perry Award.”
When Perry’s partner and friend, Pemberton, handed out the first award at the Waldorf Astoria in 1947, he called it the Tony Award, thereby establishing the name by which it is most commonly known.
While Perry and her daughters spent most of their time in New York theater (both daughters became actresses and directed and produced plays), Mildred left the acting stage and married rancher Tom McQuaid, who further grew the Salt Works Ranch to about 20,000 acres.
Although both Mildred and Tom passed away in the 1960s, Elaine returned to Park County and kept the old family ranch alive while Margaret married artist Karl Fanning and raised her daughter, Clare, in the exciting world of entertainment.
“Neither grandmother nor mother were much the athletic types and didn’t come to the ranch often,” Clare said. Although born in New York, Clare developed a keen sense of history and recently returned to live for a time at the old homestead that now belongs to the family association formed to preserve and restore the 140-year old ranch.
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