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The Bad Seed opened on Broadway in December 1954 and shocked audiences with its sweet yet sinister lead character Rhoda, played by Patty McCormack.
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.
Before The Bad Seed, McCormack and her mother would often take the train into New York for the young actress to auditon. When they heard about The Bad Seed, she really wanted the role and even asked for some Heavenly help to get it. When a newspaper reported that Lydia Reed (The Real McCoys) got the part first, McCormack was crushed. That is, until she found out they got the story wrong, and she had actually been cast. Even though she had blonde hair, Patty’s hair was dyed even blonder for the role.
2. It came out almost two years after the play.
Patty began playing Rhoda when she was eight years old. She took the job very seriously, and she never missed a single performance, even when she was sick. In her mind, it would have been unprofessional to call off. When the film went into production, she reprised the role at the age of ten.
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 film honored the play.
In a rare move for Hollywood, director Mervyn LeRoy had six actors reprise their stage roles, including McCormack, Nancy Kelly, Eileen Heckart, and Henry Jones. According to McCormack, LeRoy trusted the actors with their parts and instead focused on making them “camera savy.”
5. 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 meals from Sardi’s and ate in their matching robes.
6. The audience helped shape Rhoda.
McCormack didn’t play her character as evil but rather as a very determined and self-focused individual. As the audience reacted to her performance, she was able to determine what worked and what didn’t. She also had one of Broadway’s best for a mentor, Nancy Kelly. "I mimicked her some of the time," McCormack said.
7. The role had perks.
On stage, a scene called for McCormack to read, and so she took advantage of it. She was able to get through Pippi Longstocking and some of the Nancy Drew books. After getting the film role, director Mervin LeRoy gifted her a red bike which she rode around the Warner Brothers’ lot when she wanted to explore.