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Tony Memoirs
By Gerard Raymond
Vanessa Redgrave (2003)Vanessa Redgrave (2003)
Billy CrystalBilly Crystal
Isabelle and Two CarolsIsabelle and Two Carols
Elizabeth Ashley and Zoe CaldwellElizabeth Ashley and Zoe Caldwell

The news that Billy Crystal, 2005 American Theatre Wing Tony Award®-winner as a producer of his one-person show Billy Crystal 700 Sundays, has turned the autobiographical material from his monodrama into a book got us thinking about other Tony winners who have published their memoirs.

Here is a look at some past winners whose reflections on their lives and careers have already made it to print. It's an eclectic collection of writings. Some are chatty, others catty, but each one tells the story of an individual at the top of the profession in his or her very own words.

In some cases, the publication of an autobiography preceded the author's Tony Award; in others, the Tony came first. Certain of the following works were completed with the help of other writers. Apologies to anyone we may have inadvertently left out.

Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists, and Librettists

Engaging with the flexible nature of memory itself, four-time Tony winner Arthur Miller moved back and forth chronologically in his rich and insightful memoir, Timebends. Arthur Laurents is best known for his writing (the librettos for West Side Story and Gypsy, as well as many plays and screenplays), though he received his pair of Tonys for directing Hallelujah Baby and La Cage aux Folles. His memoir, Original Story, is packed with anecdotes from Broadway and Hollywood, told with characteristic candor and acerbic wit.

Tennessee Williams shocked some of his public in 1975 when he published a sexually candid portrait of his life in Memoirs, 24 years after he won his Best Play Tony for The Rose Tattoo. In Musical Stages, the composer and producer Richard Rodgers wrote in great detail about his famous collaborations with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. Jerry Herman, a winner for Hello Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles, described his romance with Broadway melodies in the aptly titled Showtune: A Memoir.

 

A Chorus Line's bookwriter, James Kirkwood recounted his "perilous adventures on the road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing" in Diary of a Mad Playwright. This volume chronicled the three-year odyssey of Legends!, his play that never made it to New York. Alan Jay Lerner, the lyricist/librettist of My Fair Lady and Camelot, invoked one of his most famous song titles when he called his autobiography On the Street Where I Live.

 

English playwright John Osborne, who won his Tony for Luther in 1964, published two autobiographical volumes, A Better Class of Person and Almost a Gentleman. Popular hit-maker Neil Simon (a winner for The Odd Couple and Biloxi Blues) detailed his early career and hit comedies in Rewrites. Simon then picked up his story from 1973, after the death of his first wife, in The Play Goes On. Betty Comden, who was half of the multiple award-winning team (with the late Adolph Green) that gave us classics like On The Twentieth Century and Wonderful Town, is the author of a memoir titled Off Stage.

 

Playwright, director and producer Moss Hart (Tony-winner for directing My Fair Lady) described his celebrated collaboration with George S. Kaufman and captured the glamour of Broadway in the 1930s, 40s and 50s in his best-selling memoir Act One: An Autobiography. George Abbott, who was universally refered to as "Mr. Abbott," was still working at age 99 on the 1994 revival of Damn Yankees. The multiple-award winner, whose writing and directing credits also include The Pajama Game, Fiorello!, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, published Mister Abbott when he was just 50 years into his more than seven-decade-long career.

 

Directors, Choreographers & Designers

Elia Kazan garnered three Tonys, for directing All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949) and JB (1959). He described his celebrated collaborations with Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller and defended his controversial decision to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in A Life. English director and Royal Shakespeare Company founder Peter Hall, a winner in 1967 for Harold Pinter's The Homecoming and then again in 1987 for Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, described his boyhood and his stewardship of the RSC and the National Theater in Making an Exhibition of Myself.

 

Australian-born director Michael Blakemore (Tonys for Kiss Me Kate and Copenhagen) wrote about his life and politics in Arguments with England: A Memoir. Nine-time winner director/choreographer and dancer Tommy Tune recounted his life, asserting that "what you stand for is more important than what you stand in," in Footnotes. Pioneering choreographer Agnes De Mille, a winner in 1947 for Brigadoon, authored several books including the Dance to the Piper and Promenade Home. The re-issued Diaries of Cecil Beaton, the four-time Tony winner for designing costumes for such shows as My Fair Lady and Coco, is now available in its juicy, unexpurgated splendor.

 

Equus and M. Butterfly director John Dexter's autobiography, The Honorable Beast, was published posthumously in 1993. Joshua Logan (best known for South Pacific) penned two autobiographical volumes, My Up-and-Down, In-and-Out Life and Movie Stars, Real People, and Me. Producer and director Harold Prince has earned 20 Tony Awards, more than any other individual. He set down his life story, Contradictions, in 1974--and that was before he won his Tonys for directing Sweeney Todd, Evita, and Phantom of the Opera.

Performers

Beloved Broadway star Mary Martin (South Pacific, Peter Pan, The Sound of Music) recalled the Cole Porter hit song that launched her Broadway career in the title of her autobiography, My Heart Belongs. Marian Seldes (A Delicate Balance) reflected on her craft and her career in The Bright Lights: A Theater Life. The celebrated and politically outspoken English actress Vanessa Redgrave won a Tony for her performance in the role of Mary Tyrone in the 2003 production of Long Day's Journey in the Night. She wrote about her life in the aptly-titled An Autobiography. Although the great voice has yet to make an audio record of his memoirs, James Earl Jones recalled his life and career, which includes his Tony-winning performances in The Great White Hope and Fences, in Voices and Silences. Jones's Tony-winning co-star in The Great White Hope, Jane Alexander, focused on her turbulent four-year tenure as chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts in her memoir, Command Performance: An Actress in the Theater of Politics.

 

In the last years of her life, when she was battling with cancer, two-time winner Sandy Dennis penned Sandy Dennis: A Memoir, which was published posthumously. Hume Cronyn, a winner for his performance as Polonius in the 1964 Hamlet described his career and remarkable partnership with his wife, Jessica Tandy, in A Terrible Liar. English actor John Gielgud, who won his Tony for directing Big Fish Little Fish in 1961, recounted his life in An Actor and His Time.

 

Three-time Tony winner Helen Hayes received a Tony as Best Actress in a Play in 1947, the first year of the awards. She was the author of several books including On Reflection: An Autobiography and My Life in Three Acts. Ingrid Bergman, who also won in 1947 (for Joan of Lorraine), reminisced in My Story. Another 1947 winner (as a Featured Actress for Another Part of the Forest), Patricia Neal made a remarkable recovery from a stroke that felled her at the peak of her career, and later published As I Am: An Autobiography.

 

The 1981 Best Actress Tony winner for Piaf, Jane Lapotaire, discusses surviving a cerebral hemorrhage in Time out of Mind: If I Am Not Myself Then Who Am I? Elizabeth Ashley (winner in 1962 for Take Her She's Mine) published her memoir in 1978, titled Postcards from the Road. Zoe Caldwell, who won her fourth Tony for Master Class in 1996, covered her early childhood in Australia up until her 1967 triumph playing Shakespeare's tragic heroine in Stratford, Ontario, in her autobiography I Will Be Cleopatra: An Actress's Journey.> Hell of a Life is the aptly titled memoir in which outspoken two-time winner Maureen Stapleton (The Rose Tattoo - 1951 and The Gingerbread Lady - 1971) wrote about her days in the Actors Studio and a surprising May-December romance with the legendary director George Abbott.

There's no biz like showbiz, and no one knew that better than Ethel Merman. The legendary Broadway belter wrote Don't Call Me Madam, Merman: An Autobiography, and Who Could Ask for Anything More. On the other hand, M.Butterfly's B. D. Wong keept the biz mostly in the wings when documenting his fatherhood in Following Foo. Dancer Natalia Makarova, who won Best Actress in a Musical in 1983 for On Your Toes, recounted her life story in A Dance Autobiography.

 

Rex Harrison, the actor best known for his portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, recounted his life in Rex: An Autobiography. The autobiography of Alec Guinness, a Tony-winner in 1964 for Dylan, spans three highly entertaining volumes: Blessings in Disguise, My Name Escapes Me: the Diary of a Retiring Actor, and A Positively Final Appearance. Two-time Tony winner and famous O'Neill interpreter Colleen Dewhurst's Her Autobiography was completed posthumously by Tom Viola.

In Wonderful Town Tony-winner Rosalind Russell's memoir, Life is a Banquet, the star wrote about her musical successes as well as her dramatic triumph in Auntie Mame. In March 2005, Lauren Bacall, a winner in 1970 for Applause as well as in 1981 for Woman of the Year, updated her 1978 autobiography, now titled By Myself and Then Some. In May this year, Eli Wallach (1951 winner for The Rose Tattoo) published The Good, The Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage, which includes his reminiscences of working with Tennessee Williams and The Actors Studio. Just Me I Guess, A Memoir of Sorts is the self-deprecating title of Broadway's immortal Dolly Levi and Lorelei Lee, Carol Channing. In Time Steps: My Musical Comedy Life, coming out in the fall of 2006, Donna McKechnie talks about life and career, including her Best Actress Tony winning performance in A Chorus Line.

Special Tony Award Recipients

 

The following tomes from past recipients of Special Tony Awards will certainly bring that extra touch of glamour and star-quality to your bookshelf: Present Indicative and Future Indefinite by Noel Coward; Lena by Lena Horne; Sardi's, the Story of a Famous Restaurant by Vincent Sardi Sr.; The Raw Pearl and Talking to Myself by Pearl Bailey; One More Time: A Memoir by Carol Burnett; After All by Mary Tyler Moore; I Remember It Well by Maurice Chevalier; Marlene by Marlene Dietrich; and A View from a Broad by Bette Midler.

 

And finally, if you can lay your hands on the rare copy (they all seem to have been mysteriously hijacked by a certain Barry Humphries), there is the luminous autobiography of Broadway's self-proclaimed "gigastar," My Gorgeous Life by Dame Edna Everage.

Revised April 23, 2012

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