If the two 1883 Peck's Bad Boy books were
responsible for the Bad Boy jumping into the public eye, it was the
Peck's Bad Boy theatre presentations that kept him there. Charles
Pidgin (1844-1923) wrote the original authorized adaptations of Peck's
Bad Boy for the theatre. His plays, with various changes and revisions,
ran on the theatre circuit for almost three decades.
Charles Felton Pidgin was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts. In addition
to his career as an author and songwriter (more than 60 sheet music
vocal compositions), he was also an inventor. He held patents for a
number of mechanical adding and tabulation machines.
Charles F. Pidgin
Pidgin wrote two adaptions: Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa, a three act
musical which was copyrighted on December 8th of 1883. His other effort
was copyrighted on December 31, 1883. It was Peck's Bad Boy, His Pa and
the Groceryman. The four acts of this play included The Grocery Store,
Peck's House, The Drug Store and The Picnic.
In addition to the play he also wrote the lyrics for the songs in the
play. The music was produced by Charles D. Blake. The songs included in
his three act play included: Peck's Bad Boy, Romance of a Bad Young Man
and The Rooster and the Man.
Pidgin's play was revised from time to time over the years of
production. Initially the plays had either three or four acts. Songs,
dance and the famous goat skit were key elements.
Peck and Pidgin planned for Charles Atkinson the manager of the
"Jollities" (later of the Atkinson's
Comedy Company) to produce
Pidgin's plays on the theatre circuit when Atkinson returned from
England late 1883-early 1884. Of course, Atkinson became the first
authorized producer of the plays but even early on before the play
became a great success there were problems.
Trade card for Atkinson's Jollities
June 22, 1883 Dan Sully copyrighted a three
act play "Peck's Bad Boy
and His Father". He subsequently announced his new Peck's Bad Boy
dramatization as early as Aug, 1883. He stated it would be put on the
road in the 1884 season. George W. Peck, unhappy about this
unauthorized production, sought out and received an injunction
restraining Sully from using the Peck's Bad Boy name (or any similar
In 1884 Sully changed some content of his original play, adapted parts
of an English play called the Chimney Corner and then changed the name
of his play to "Our Corner Grocery" (later The Corner Grocery). This
new three (and later) four act production ran for a number of years at
similar venues as the authorized Peck's Bad Boy play. Despite the
injunction this play had numerous similarities to the Peck
Here are trade cards from Sully's show. More
Peck and Pidgin may have stopped Sully but there were other productions
that predated Atkinson's first plays.
The earliest Peck's Bad Boy theatre presentation I have seen is from
June, 1883 in Vallejo, California. This was put on at the Emerson
Standard Theater: "Charley Reed's New Farce, Peck's Bad Boy No. 2". No
details are known.
Another early unauthorized Peck's Bad Boy theatre production was one
written by E. N. Slocum: Peck's Bad Boy, or, His Chum, His Pa and His
Ma. This was performed in October of 1883 at the Cairncross 11th St.
Opera House which is located in Philadelphia. It appears it was a one
A third early unauthorized play, Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa was at the
Opera House on October 11, 1883 in New Castle, Pennsylvania. It was
performed by the Hi. Henry Minstrels.
the years Peck, Atkinson and Pidgin dealt with numerous
unauthorized producers of Peck's Bad Boy look alike plays. As quickly
as an injunction would be granted against one theatre producer, several
more would pop up. Atkinson's first performances were in January, 1884.
In January, 1884 a notice appeared in the Elyria Republican newspaper
noting that the Atkinson Comedy Company was the only authorized
producer of Peck's Bad Boy. During Atkinson’s production years, a
number of different managers ran the company- Charles Atkinson,
Atkinson and Gilbert, Rich and Harris, Frank Daly, Dan Daly, Geo. W.
Heath, Heath and Farren, Fred P. Wilson, Griffin and Wilson and more.
Here is a letter from the manager, Will J. Banks, of the
Atkinson Comedy Company dated May 16th, 1889. He is requesting
information about open dates in June to perform the play. Interesting
that there is so little lag time between securing the venue and the
actual play’s date.
The earliest Atkinson production I have seen was on January 9th, 1884.
The company performed Peck's Bad Boy, His Pa and the Groceryman at
Whitney's Opera House in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
Thereafter numerous Atkinson productions were performed all over the
country and in Canada. What becomes apparent when looking at all of the
venues where this play took place in early and mid-1884 is that the
Atkinson Comedy Company had various theatre troupes performing this
play under its auspices across the country. From New York to Kansas
plays that stated they were produced by the Atkinson Comedy Company
were being put on in disparate locations the same night. It is possible
of course that some unauthorized producers were using the Atkinson
Here is an Atkinson's Comedy Company ad for Peck's Bad Boy in Elyria,
Ohio on January 23, 1884. The goat scene does not appear in this skit.
Of course, the plays were gigantic hits and were sold out everywhere.
The reviews about the hilarity of the play were not uniformly positive
however. Here is a short negative review from the New York World in
Tell us what you really think!!
In fact, Victorian virtues came into play as noted in this clipping
from the Reading Times in Pennsylvania in October of 1884.
The police chief prohibited the play from being shown because of a city
ordinance "morals clause". The performance went on anyway with the
troupe paying a $20 fine which was more than made up by the excellent
Isaac Rich and William Harris
In 1884 Atkinson and Peck sued Isaac Rich, William Harris and William
Carroll to stop their production of "That Bad Boy". Previously Rich and
Harris had managed Atkinson Comedy Company's Peck's Bad Boy plays and
they claimed that they had a contract with Peck and Atkinson for a
certain territory. Subsequently it was noted that the contract had
expired but Rich and Harris had continued to produce this play with
small variations in content. Rich et. al. also reasoned that a number
of other companies (not authorized) were producing similar plays at the
time. It appears that Peck lost this case on a technicality.
Gus J. Heege (1862-1898)
Heege was an early unauthorized producer beginning in 1884 with his
Peck's Bad Boy performances. In 1885 Peck obtained an injection against
Heege. Heege could no longer use the Peck or Peck's Bad Boy name in a
This did not stop Heege however. This column comes from the Fort Wayne
daily gazette on February 14, 1886. As can be seen, Heege continued to
produce his unauthorized play.
Chas. Guinness produced an unauthorized Peck's Bad
Boy play. His
company was active in the mid-1880's. Shown below is a playbill from
1885 for a performance taking place in Milford, New Hampshire.
George W. Peck warned pirate producers in this 1888 newspaper blurb in
the New York Mirror:
In the 1888-1890 time frame an active pirate in the midwest was Matt
Kusell (sometimes spelled Kurell). Kusell actually advertised that he
was an authorized producer. Obviously he was not as is pointed out in
this newspaper clipping. A trade magazine went so far as to say that
laws should be passed so sneaks like Matt Kusell should be put in state
Trade magazine comments about Kusell
Kusell also produced "The Bad Boy and His Girl" in 1889 and 1890.
In 1888-1889 J. J. Williams headed up a pirate production
company that claimed to be the actual Atkinson Comedy Company. This
Company played theaters from Minneapolis to Denver and into Canada. In
fact the J. J. Williams production even used the same trade cards as
Atkinson with the verso advertising noting the J. J Williams name.
There were many other pirate productions.
Here are a just a few of these producers.
The Harris Museum, Pittsburgh in 1885
Charles P. Hall California 1885
M. B. Leavitt, San Francisco, 1893
Robinson's Peck's Bad Boy Cincinnati 1895
McAlpin and Foster Company, Edwardsville, Illinois 1895
J. L. Harvey
Arnold's Fun Makers, Atlanta 1899
Peck's Bad Boy Portrait by J. Smith in 1901
In the 1920's there were countless Peck's Bad Boy performances by
numerous unauthorized producers. These will not be reviewed.
Charles Albert Shaw (1831-1909) was one of Peck's legal assignees and
had the rights to the Peck's Bad Boy play in the 1890's
Shaw was a proprietor of Austin and Stone's Museum in Boston. He
granted several regional licenses in 1901 and later years. These
licenses changed from year to year.
He too was constantly dealing
with unauthorized productions of Peck's Bad Boy. Geo W. Heath had the
rights in the early 1890's. Shaw's frustration was apparent in 1895
when he noted in a trade journal that his licensee Geo. W. Heath had
the sole rights to this production. Heath produced the play for quite a
number of years.
Some examples of regional licenses:
L. M. Heath (Geo W. Heath Manager) in 1901 got the license for New
England and parts of the midwest. This company was known as the
"Eastern Company". In 1902 some of Heath's geographical areas were
given to Leroy French.
Here is a letter from George Heath to an opera house inquiring about
the availability of dates.
Leroy French, proprietor of French's Opera House in Hyde Park,
Massachusetts had the rights for a number of midwestern states and
parts of New England and Canada in 1901. His area was expanded in 1902
(as noted above).
Here are two letters 1902 which Harry Levy, the general manager of L.
J. French, sent to venues in which Peck's Bad Boy was scheduled to
play. The letters refer to contracts that were to be signed and
Here is an ad from the St. John Daily Sun, July 7, 1902
Charles F. Brotherton of
Ashtabula, Ohio had the rights for a number of southern and
southwestern states in the early 1900's.
In 1938 with the permission of Principal Productions, Inc., proprietors
of the copyright in the original work Peck's Bad Boy, Charles George
wrote an updated version of the three act play. George's adaptation was
done by many amateur troupes including high schools, etc. over the next
2. Trade Cards
3. Advertising Covers (envelopes)
5. Play Tickets
6. Hotel Register
7. Charles Atkinson Co. and others
8. Sheet Music for the Play