When this genealogy researcher watches the Tony Awards this week, the person for whom the highest awards for theater work are named will be on my mind. That’s because the family history of Mary Antoinette Perry Frueauff, known in the profession as Antoinette Perry, is fascinating.
It is a real Broadway family tree story. The genealogy researcher can simply look the list of who the pall bearers were at her funeral that was reported in The New York Times on July 3, 1946:
- Frank L. Blackburn
- Frank Fay
- John Golden
- Sidney R. Fleisher
- Vinton Freedley
- Thomas Kilpatrick
- Oscar Hammerstein 2nd
- Taylor Holmes
- Marcus Heiman
- Arthur Hopkins
- Lawrence Langner
- Louis Lotito
- Bert Lytell
- Burns Mantle
- Murdock Pemberton
- Jack Pulaski
- Richard Rodgers
- Vincent Sardi
- Lee Shubert
- Deems Taylor
- Dwight Deere Wiman
- James F. Reilly
- Sam Zolotow
Any genealogy researcher will recognize some of these big names. It is an impressive Broadway genealogy list that includes Perry’s co-producers, stars, friends and colleagues. Five hundred people came to her funeral, it was reported. For the genealogy researcher, this is a terrific example of the power of obituaries and newspaper articles. One finds amazing names, details and color in these small reports.
Now, let’s get to the genealogy details of our Tony/Toni/Antoinette.
Mary Antoinette Perry Frueauff (b. 1888, d. 1946) was born in Colorado and, in 1909, married Frank Wheatcroft Frueauff (b. approx. 1873, d. 1922) a Pennsylvania native who was living in Colorado at the time.
She was 18 when she married but she had already had a blossoming career in the theater. Antoinette Perry had gravitated to the theater very early in life. She is reported to have traveled with her Aunt and Uncle who were working on the theater circuit. Her uncle, George Wessells, was known to specialize in Shakespeare. Antoinette made her actual stage debut at age 15.
By the 1910 census, our Antoinette was living in her mother’s house and had been married for five months.
- Minnee (sic) B. Perry, 40,head,
- Mildred H. Wessells, 40, widowed
- Tora Aronson, 24,servant
- Frank D. Frueauff, 36,son-in-law
- Antoinette, 21, wife
Minnee B. Perry, Antoinette’s mother, was head of the household and was working as a Teacher employed by Christian Science. Minnee’s sister, Mildred H. Wessells was widowed and Minnee’s son-in-law, Frank, was working as a Manager. Her daughter, Antoinette, was newly married.
Frank and Antoinette had been married for five months at the time. The genealogy researcher might note two interesting items on this census find:
1) Frank was fifteen years older than Antoinette.
2) Antoinette’s mother was divorced.
Searching further back, the Lineage Books of the Daughters of the American Revolution show results for Mary Antoinette Perry Frueauff. In volume 148, page 263, she is listed as a Descendant of Captain Nathanial Hall, John Arnold and Ephraim Wood.
Her father was William Russell Perry (b. 1859, d 1911) and married her mother Minnie Betsey Hall (b. 1863) in 1887, according to the Lineage Book.
On Antoinette’s mother’s side, the Hall genealogy may be traced to:
- Nathanial Hall (b. 1724, d. 1816) who was a commander of a company of Connecticut Troops from 1777-1781. Hall was born in Mansfield, Connecticut and died in New Haven.
- John Arnold (b. 1726, d. 1807) served as a private at the Lexington Alarm and was born and died in Mansfield, Connecticut.
- Ephraim Wood (b. ?, d. 1831) served as a private in the Massachusetts troops was born in Middleboro Massachusetts and died in Middlebury, Vermont.
Frank and Antoinette went on to have three children.
- Elaine Storrs Frueauff/aka Elaine Perry (b. 1921, 3. 1986)
- Margaret Perry Fanning Hall/aka Margaret Perry (b. 1913, d. 2007)
- Virginia Day (b. 1918, d. 1918)
Their two daughters who survived worked in the theater, also. They took their mother’s stage name, Perry, which was recognized in the theater world.
Her husband died young and left Antoinette with a $12 million estate. With it, she began to support theater ventures in varied ways. She was the co-founder of the Theater Wing of the Allied Relief, later known as the American Theater Wing. This group operated the famous Stage Door Canteens where troops were entertained. Antoinette was chair of the Theater Wing from 1941-1944.
A year after her death in 1946, from a heart condition that was said to have been untreated due to her Christian Science religious beliefs, the awards named in honor of the accomplishments of Antoinette Perry were established.
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