Why Mary Tyler Moore received her special Tony Award in 1980

Mary Tyler Moore, photographed in Los Angeles in 1979, the year before she would be honored by the Tonys.
(George Rose / Getty Images)

Of all the accolades bestowed upon Mary Tyler Moore before her death Wednesday — six-time Emmy winner, comic genius, Oscar-nominated dramatic actress, feminist inspiration — there was one honor that came with an asterisk: Tony winner.

Moore won a special Tony Award for “Whose Life Is It Anyway,” about a sculptor paralyzed in a car crash, in 1980 — the year Phyllis Frelich won lead actress in a play for “Children of a Lesser God.” Why was Moore given a special Tony?

Records don’t specifically state why the Tony Administration Committee decided to give the actress a special Tony, a spokeswoman for the American Theatre Wing said. But she did pass along the winners list published June 10 in the New York Times, which noted that Moore’s award was “in appreciation of the appearance in live theater of a major television star.”

When “Whose Life Is it Anyway” opened on Broadway in 1979, Tom Conti played the sculptor. Conti went on to win the 1979 lead actor Tony Award over Jack Lemmon in “Tribute.” 

After Conti’s run ended, producers changed the gender of the lead character and cast Moore, who “assured the continuance of the play,” the Times noted.

From the June 10, 1980, edition of the New York Times.



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