Author of Peck's Bad Boy

Author, Politician, Publisher, and Statesman

The Theatre

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

On 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 title).

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 stories/play.

Here are trade cards from Sully's show. More trade cards.


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 act play.

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.

Throughout 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 name.

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 March, 1884.

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 attendance.

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 production.

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.

Charles Guinness
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:

Matt Kusell
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 prison.

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
Charles Harris
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 returned.

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 few years.

Play/Theatre Ephemera
2. Trade Cards
3. Advertising Covers (envelopes)
4. Playbills
5. Play Tickets
6. Hotel Register
7. Charles Atkinson Co. and others Theatre Posters
8. Sheet Music for the Play


Last Revision: June 2, 2017