January 1, 2004 by

Isabelle Stevenson

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Categories: Actors

istevenson.jpgIsabelle Stevenson, a dancer who became one of the theatre world’s most committed advocates, died on Dec. 28. Cause of death was not released. She was 90.
Described in the French press as the “blond Josephine Baker,” Stevenson made her New York debut in “Earl Carroll’s Vanities,” a musical-theater revue that rivaled the Ziegfield Follies. She toured the United States and Europe, and studied both journalism at New York University, and fashion/costume design at the Traphegan School of Design.
In 1966, Stevenson became president of the American Theatre Wing, a not-for-profit organization devoted to promoting excellence in the American theatre. During her 33-year tenure, she initiated many educational programs, including “Introduction to Broadway,” which grants high school students access to Broadway shows, and “Theatre in Schools,” a program that sends professionals to high schools to talk about their craft. Stevenson also created, produced and hosted “Working in the Theatre,” a long-running seminar show that airs five times a week on CUNY-TV. She was named chairman of the board in 1998.
The elegantly attired doyenne of the Tonys would appear on the award show each year to explain the workings of the American Theatre Wing to the television audience. In 1999, Stevenson received a special lifetime achievement Tony Award for her work. She also received The Elizabeth Chapin Award for Volunteers in the Arts, and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 2001. To honor her memory, the marquee lights on Broadway were dimmed on Dec. 30.
Past Episodes of “Working in the Theatre”

3 Responses to Isabelle Stevenson

  1. Jed

    The American Theatre Wing were also the founders of the Tony awards, named for Antoinette Perry, who was chairman and secretary of the Wing during World War II. For more about that, see: http://americantheatrewing.org/tony_history.php
    I always think of Isabelle when I’m on 57th Street in New York, not just because the Wing had its offices there, but because her favorite place to have lunch was The Russian Tea Room, she’d invite young up-and-comers, Tony winners and CEOs with the same old-world largesse.

  2. BRUCE MACINTYRE

    MRS STEVENSON WAS QUITE A CHARACTER, SHARP AS A TACK WITH A WIT THAT MATCHED. I WORKED AS HER PRIVATE CHEF AND FOUND HER TO BE IRRITATING, INGRATIATING, AND NEVER DULL. SHE WAS DEMANDING YET UNDERSTANDING. I NEVER KNEW WHO I WOULD RUN INTO IN HER SALON FROM THE SHINING LIGHTS OF THE CURRENT THEATRE SEASON, TO THE GREAT NAMES OF THE PAST, SHE CHARMED ALL SHE ENCOUNTERED.

  3. Corina Hughes-Klemm

    I worked for Mrs. Stevenson as her assistant while she was President of the American Theatre Wing for around 2 years (’94-’96). Working for her was an interesting experience, let’s say – there was never a dull moment! It was a great job and I had the great fortune to meet many famous people ‘in the business’, see some great theatre and attend many a soiree as her PA. I remember her with fondness!

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