The Bad Seed opened on Broadway in December 1954 and shocked with its sweet yet sinister lead character Rhoda, played by Patty McCormack, who inherited her genes from an even darker past.
The movie adaption is noteworthy for sticking closely to the original play and reuniting the Broadway cast whose honed performances shot the film into cult classic status.
1. Patty prayed for the job.
McCormack and her mother took the train into New York for auditions. When The Bad Seed came along, Patty wanted the role, well, badly. However, a newspaper actually reported that Lydia Reed (The Real McCoys) got the part, only for her to find out the truth later on. Even though she had blonde hair, Patty’s hair was dyed even blonder for the role.
2. The film was released almost two years after the play.
Patty took on the role of Rhoda at the age of eight (and a half), and never missed a single performance, even when she was sick, as any cancelation would have been seen as unprofessional. Patty reprised the role at the age of ten for the film.
3. The play ran for over 300 performances.
By Broadway 1954 standards, it was a smash hit, running for five months. “We did eight performances a week, with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays,” said McCormack. “You really got to be a family doing theater.”
4. The audience helped shape Rhonda.
McCormack didn’t play her character as evil, but rather determined and eternally right. As the audience reacted to her stage performance, Patty knew what worked and what didn’t. She also had one of Broadway’s best for a guide, Nancy Kelly. "I mimicked her some of the time."
5. The film honored the play.
In a rare move for Hollywood, Director Mervyn LeRoy has six actors reprise their stage role, including McCormack, Kelly, Eileen Heckart, and Henry Jones. According to McCormack, LeRoy trusted the actors to recapture their roles and focused on making them “camera savy”. One other tweak – Patty learned to play a song on the piano that was originally played off stage on Broadway.
6. Patty got along with her on-screen mom.
Nancy Kelly, a Broadway veteran, was “glamorous”, according to McCormack, but that didn’t stop the two from becoming close. "Nancy Kelly at the time was like a second mom to me." In fact, the duo sometimes ordered from Sardi’s and ate in their matching robes. Patty even read with Kelly during her first audition.
7. The role had perks.
On stage, a scene called for McCormack to read, and so, she actually had the time to read many books, including Pippi Longstocking and the Nancy Drew series. After getting the film role, Director Mervin LeRoy gifted her a red bike which she rode around the Warner Brothers’ lot exploring.