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‘The Bad Seed’ Returns as the Mean ‘Mommy’ : Video: When she was a child, Patty McCormack played the malicious Rhoda on stage and in film. Now the actress stars in a new thriller inspired by her memorable role.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Once a bad seed, always a bad seed.

And Patty McCormack created one of the baddest back in 1954. At the age of 9, McCormack terrified Broadway audiences in Maxwell Anderson’s “The Bad Seed” as the malicious Rhoda. In the play, Rhoda quite literally got away with murder.

In the watered-down 1956 film version, for which McCormack received an Oscar nomination, Rhoda got her comeuppance thanks to a bolt of lightning.

Now, 40 years later, McCormack’s back to her evil ways in “Mommy,” a new thriller being released this month on Eagle Entertainment Video. Just how diabolical is McCormack’s Mommy? Well, the ad line warns viewers: “Never let her tuck you in.” And that’s something of an understatement.

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“Mommy” was shot last year for less than $1 million in Muscatine, Iowa, the home of writer-director and “Bad Seed” buff Max Allan Collins. It is sort of a homage to “The Bad Seed.”

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In “The Bad Seed,” Rhoda went psycho when she lost a penmanship award. In the new film, McCormack’s too-perfect, smothering, controlling Mommy goes on a killing spree after her daughter’s teacher (Majel Barrett) decides to give a class award to an underprivileged boy even though her daughter has better grades. Not only does Mommy begin to thin out the town’s population, she even wins a battle with the local junkyard’s vicious guard dog. Jason Miller of “The Exorcist” fame and novelist Mickey Spillane also star.

Surprisingly, “Mommy” is McCormack’s first villain role since “The Bad Seed” (which is available on Warner Home Video).

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“I did all kinds of people, but never truly without-a-conscience evil,” says McCormack, who, unlike Rhoda or Mommy, is warm and friendly. “Possibly because nothing was flat-out written that way. So I didn’t really get the opportunity.”

Playing evil as an adult was an interesting experience for the actress “because it was something that belonged to childhood for me. I had to go back a little bit to the stuff I thought about as Rhoda and mature her in a fantasy kind of way. This possibly could have been a road she would have taken and how she would have taken it.”

McCormack, the mother of two grown children who got a “kick” out of the movie, also found the experience “freeing. I have a feeling that part of Rhoda was so indelible when I was young that afterward I had a rough time sitting on some of my strengths. Sandra Dee was around then. I was heavier [dramatically] than that. I kind of felt out of it for a while.”

The Brooklyn-born McCormack began acting when she was 6. By the time she auditioned for “The Bad Seed,” she knew “the ropes a bit” about the profession. The play’s director, she recalls, “treated me intelligently and made it fun to do, to take the jump. I didn’t have an overview of what was going on [in the play]. I think probably what I thought was that I was correct in wanting what I wanted and was the kind of person that did what they had to do in order to get what they wanted and made no judgment. I think kids are just smarter than we know or more complicated than we know.”

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Her neighborhood friends in Queens, she recalls, weren’t impressed that she was the toast of Broadway. “But the reaction of adults was bizarre,” she acknowledges. “I didn’t know quite what to make of that. Then I went to so-called normal school in Brooklyn and that was tough at first because I don’t know what they thought. I guess they were expecting something more than just a person. They ignored me after that.”

McCormack, though, generally has fond memories of her childhood. “I was lucky in that the things I got shorted on were balanced in other ways,” she says. “It’s tough for anybody to have a big success as a kid. I think maybe the whole thing in life is to go past whatever is hard for you and to develop. I think artistically I got a little stunted. I guess I was an artistic kid and I wasn’t handled as one. So there was that conflict. But I grew up sane. I had kids.”

She acknowledges she went through a “sad time” when she was 18. “I thought I had to think about what I wanted to do,” she says. “I started eating. I got a little fat. [She ate herself out of the role of “Gidget” on TV.] I sort of put myself out of work for a few years. And then I decided I actually liked acting. I came back out here on my own--we were living back East at this point--and just worked. I continued to work, as hard as this is to believe, through the years with ups and downs--a lot of TV and theater and some movies.”

This spring, McCormack is planning to return to Muscatine to reprise her Mommy character in another movie Collins will direct. “It’s not going to be a sequel,” she says with a smile. “It’s a whole different story line.”

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