The Sarah Siddons Award, established in 1952, is presented annually to an actor for an outstanding performance in a Chicago theatrical production. The winner receives a statuette of the Welsh stage actress Sarah Siddons.
The Society and its award were inspired by a fictional award depicted in the opening scene of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz film All About Eve, winner of the 1950 Academy Award for Best Picture. The film opens with the image of an award trophy, described by character Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) as the "highest honour our theater knows: the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement." The award was invented by Mankiewicz for the script.
In 1952, a small group of eminent Chicago theater-goers, including actress Edith Luckett Davis, mother of future First Lady Nancy Davis Reagan, organized the Society and began presenting an award physically modeled and named after the one in the film.
Josheph L. Mankiewicz also received the award. His response was, reportedly, "I invented it to put down all this fatuous prize-giving, and now there's some outfit in Chicago actually promoting a Sarah Siddons Award every year, and people like Helen Hayes go out there and make tearful acceptance speeches."
During the Sarah Siddons Society Anniversary Gala in 1973, an honorary Sarah Siddons award was presented to Bette Davis, even though she didn't appear in a Chicago play that year. Another All About Eve cast member, Celeste Holm, had previously won the award. Lauren Bacall, who played Davis' role in the Broadway musical version, Applause, has also won.
In addition to the award, the Society also funds a number of scholarships for theatre and other performance university students in the Chicago area. Beginning in 2013, the Society has partnered with the Chicago Humanities Festival to expose young students from disadvantaged backgrounds to live performances.
Actress/Actor of the Year (chronologically):