The Bad Seed (play)

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The Bad Seed
Bad-Seed 1955 front-cover.jpg
Written byMaxwell Anderson
Date premieredDecember 8, 1954 (1954-12-08)
Place premieredBroadway – at the
46th Street Theatre
New York City, United States
Original languageEnglish

The Bad Seed is a 1954 play by American playwright Maxwell Anderson, adapted from the novel of the same name by American writer William March.


The play focuses on the seemingly perfect little girl Rhoda Penmark, who is able to charm her way into getting just about anything she wants. Anything, except a highly coveted penmanship medal that her teacher has awarded to Claude Daigle, one of Rhoda's classmates. During a school outing near the shore, Claude goes missing and it is soon discovered that Claude has drowned near a pier. Rhoda's mother, Christine, begins to suspect that Rhoda had something to do with the boy's death when she finds Claude's penmanship medal hidden in Rhoda's room. Gradually Christine comes to believe that Rhoda was behind other sudden deaths surrounding the family.

Her suspicions challenge Christine to look into her own past, and she learns not only that she was adopted, but also that her biological mother was a ruthless serial killer. Near the end of the play, Christine decides to take both Rhoda's life and her own. She gives Rhoda a large quantity of sleeping pills, telling her they are vitamins. Then she shoots herself in the head, killing herself. Rhoda survives because the sound of the gunshot has alerted her neighbors to investigate and they find Rhoda just in time to save her.


Staged by Reginald Denham, the play opened on Broadway on December 8, 1954, at the 46th Street Theatre in New York City. After five months, the play moved to the Coronet Theatre on 49th Street, and remained there until the final performance on September 27, 1955. The play had run for 334 performances.[1]

The production starred Nancy Kelly (who won the 1955 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in the role as the mother), Patty McCormack, Eileen Heckart and Henry Jones.

Interest in the play was strong enough that Life magazine ran an extensive story on the production a week before it opened.[2]

The play was shortlisted for the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but Joseph Pulitzer Jr. pressured the prize jury into presenting it to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof instead.[3]

Film adaptation[edit]

The play was adapted by John Lee Mahin into an Academy Award-nominated 1956 film of the same name, directed by Mervyn Leroy. Kelly, McCormack, Heckart, and Jones all reprised their stage roles in the film. The first three received Academy Award nominations for their performances. The movie's ending was changed from that of the play for purposes of the Hollywood Production Code.


  1. ^ Database (undated). "The Bad Seed". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved August 31, 2013.
  2. ^ Life. December 1, 1954.
  3. ^ Fischer, Heinz-Dietrich; Fischer, Erika J. (2008). The Pulitzer Prize Archive – A History and Anthology of Award-Winning Materials in Journalism, Letters, and Arts. Munich: K. G. Saur Verlag; ISBN 978-3-598-30170-4. pg. 246.

External links[edit]