Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! is an unabashed love note to Chicago and its theatre from an author who has had the good fortune to be acting in Chicago since 1984. It is written from the perspective of a fan. Its sole purpose is to serve as a point of pride, to tell the world about Chicago and its contributions to theatre. I wanted to pay tribute to the pioneers who came here willing to take risks, and to those who followed to build the city’s theatre culture.

From community theatre to dinner theatre, from children’s theatre to improv, this city has birthed or made significant contributions to the world of the theatre that I hope to celebrate here.

Throughout I have attempted to link the various periods showing the impact one movement had on another, or how one theatre or institution has been critical to the development of the next. I’ve tried to make the connections that show how the work and ideas of one were so important to the others, how major players emerged to carry on that work, and how each contribution was unique.

Pete Blatchford


Pete Blatchford’s Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! is Affectionate, Uplifting, Utterly Good! In an age and of a subject often bathed in too many words, this delightful coffee table book combines a rich and broad array of pictures, photos, placards and posters laid out with the dynamic of a good graphic novel, about the history I was so lucky to stumble upon as a novice theatre enthusiast when I arrived here in the 1970s. More than a well-researched reference, more than an album of valuable images, this book celebrates the feel of distinctly Chicago Theatre.

Thanks Pete Blatchford!
Stefan Brün
Artistic Director - Prop Thtr


Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! is an exciting journey through the theatrical history of Chicago, focusing on what got us to the storefront movement of the 60s and 70s, then what followed. The photos collected are a treasure trove, from Joseph Jefferson on down. It’s a delight for anyone who loves Chicago theatre and Chicago history.

Jason Epperson, PerformInk   

Author Blatchford’s decades-long opus is as much a labor of love as it is a meticulously researched reference guide which doubles as a coffee table book that is impossible not to love. Lavish with images, photos and memorabilia, WICKED is simply the most inclusive volume on Chicago’s creative scene to see print. The world looks to Chicago as the hub for small stage brilliance and innovation; here’s the best guide to why. Chicago historians and theatre fans, rejoice!   -  Mark Braun, Food Industry News

Pete Blatchford’s new book Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! is a wickedly good and utterly interesting, value-centered history of Chicago Theatre. It pays tribute in a concise, informative and easily accessible way to triple gifts of the Chicago theatre tradition: a grass roots desire to serve the public, innovation, and ideals of social justice. The book does not flinch from covering some of the darker moments in this history such as the infamous and tragic Iroquois Theatre fire. But while looking at the gritty roots of theatre in Chicago, from a modest start on the banks of the river before there was a downtown, to storefronts all over our modern sprawling city, this book contains innumerable archival photos and images that provide vivid access to the past. So whether you are looking for a wide ranging introduction to the high points of the subject, or want to satisfy your curiosity about what some of the early pioneers of theater looked like while also learning what they were aiming to do, this book will meet your interests. You will be able to trace the line of creative ascent from the theatre games engendered for play-based learning at Jane Adam’s Hull House to Second City and the improvisational skills and concern for the social landscape that have led so many fine Chicago actors and writers to reach a larger world. It provides an excellent overview map and visual guide to the territory that will no doubt inspire further exploration of this rich topic.  

 - Mike Brayndick, Playwright, Artistic Director, On the Spot Theatre Company, Ph.d.

Chicago is one of the largest and most diverse cities in the United States. It’s a hub of art (theatre in particular) and culture with a rich and fascinating history deserving of attention. In Pete Blatchford's Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad!: An Illustrated History of Chicago Theatre 1837-1974, the engrossing backstory of theatre in Chicago receives just such attention. In his forward, Blatchford refers to his work as "an unabashed love note to Chicago and its theatre," and that is exactly what it is. Loaded with countless photos, illustrations, promotional posters, and maps of the city, Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! allows its readers to get a clear image of what Chicago has looked like over the years and how the city and its theatre scene has changed, growing and developing with the passage of time.

Blatchford has a long history as a theatre artist in Chicago himself. As a playwright, he has written a number of plays, including adaptations of The Count of Monte Cristo and The War of the Worlds, so his passion and experience in theatre go without question. His insight has clearly equipped him with the instinct to seek out and present the sort of information that any theatre aficionado would be interested in. Furthermore, his access to resources and storytelling experience has allowed him to create a tome that is more than the mere presentation of information and data; he is able to tell the story of the growth and development of theatre in Chicago with clear affection.

Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! contains the kind of stories one might expect in a historical account of Chicago theatre, such as the Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903, and the founding of such institutions as the Goodman Theatre and The Second City. However, Blatchford is also able to feature profiles on otherwise overlooked characters and companies from Chicago theatre's past. Blatchford covers everything from the stage performances of the Booth family—father Junius, sons Edwin and John Wilkes (the one that assassinated Lincoln)—to Shirley Graham, key player in the Black Chicago Renaissance. Even in terms of stories that touch on familiar territory, Blatchford manages to really dig in; for instance, the Jeff Awards are a well-known annual celebration of achievements within the Chicago theatre community, akin to the large-scale Tonys that take place in New York every year. With two ceremonies (one for Equity theatre practitioners and one for those who are Non-Equity), few know that the Jeff Awards and the committee who grants them take their name from the actor Joseph Jefferson III. Even for those who do know the origins of the awards' namesake, Blatchford offers unique insight into Jefferson's career and his impact on Chicago theatre. Having made a major breakthrough in 1858 with his performance in Our American Cousin, Jefferson went on to play the titular role in Rip Van Winkle from 1860 through 1905.

Over the course of its 355 pages, the book manages to cover a lot of ground. Blatchford does a good job of exploring the history of Chicago theatre in an interesting, well organized, concise, and accessible way. As with anything, there could always be more information regarding some of the relevant and less-mainstream movements that are intrinsically linked to the historical and socio-economic development of Chicago, both theatrically and otherwise (people of color and queer artists receive less focus than they're due). Yet, overall, Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! is a worthwhile and comprehensive history of Chicago theatre from 1837-1974.

Jose Nateras, Windy City Reviews


Received this lovely gift in the mail today. “Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad!” an illustrated history of Chicago theatre that I contributed pictures to from David Shepherd's collection. Written by Pete Blatchford with design and layout by Jennifer Sowinski, David is featured in the chapter “Shepherd’s Flock.” His collection has been quite prolific over the past year; popping up in two TV documentaries on Mike Nichols (PBS and HBO) and Mike Birbiglia’s film “Don’t Think Twice.” It does my heart good. - Michael Golding

A gloriously graphic, risqué read for every Chicago theatre-goer In vintage sepia tones and hand-tinted color photographs, this entertaining history digs down to the roots of Chicago theatre, tracing its evolution from the antics of a fireball-eating ventriloquist on an early makeshift stage. ​

A cast of charismatic characters includes James McVicker, a touring vaudeville actor who settled in Chicago to build its first true playhouse. One of his hires was John Wilkes Booth, whose role as assassin of Abraham Lincoln lives in infamy. French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt made her Chicago debut in the same theatre before it was reduced to ashes in the great fire of 1871. Pictures, maps and playbills record its rise and its tragic demise.
A chapter of this curiosity-filled picture book is dedicated to Joseph Jefferson III, memorialized today by Chicago’s Jeff Awards. There are antique photos in his most celebrated role, Rip Van Winkle, which he played on stages around the world for 40 years, as well as in an 1896 silent movie.

As the century turns, photos capture the destruction-by-fire of the Iroquois theatre, killing 600. Other images bear witness, as low-brow vaudeville makes way for more serious dramatics at “Mr. Goodman’s Theatre.” Subsequent chapters dance readers though the jazz age, march into the New Deal and celebrate theatricals in times of war and peace, leading to the  cementing of Chicago as a world leader in stage, music and comedy.

Picture by story-telling picture, Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! lays bare both the seedy underworld and the artistic triumphs of one of the greatest theatre cities in the world.

Born and raised in the west suburban village of Wayne, Pete Blatchford is a veteran of Chicago theatre as both a playwright and respected actor.  - West Suburban Living

Chicago actor and theater veteran Pete Blatchford does a comprehensive and inclusive job of covering Chicago theater history, from its humble beginnings in vaudeville and variety acts to its current status as an established international theater hub. Throughout the way, Blatchford captures the various innovations and movements that helped take the theater from a suspect, immoral art form to widely accepted and commercially successful entertainment. These innovations include the development of children's theater, the use of non-professional actors, community theater and of course, Improvisation, Chicago's best-known theater form. Of particular interest is how Jane Addams' Hull House gave rise to Improvisation, Chicago's best known theater form, through Neva Boyd, who founded Hull House's Recreational Training School program, and her student Viola Spolin who further developed the games that tapped into actors' spontaneity with live, real-time suggestions from audiences.

Old and new photographs, playbills, newspaper headlines, posters, announcements and illustrations take the reader on a visual journey through the evolution of Chicago theater. Old maps showing the location of premier Chicago theaters paired with current photos of these locations illustrate Chicago's evolution from a small prairie town filled with transients to a world-class metropolitan city. Undoubtedly, the innovations Chicago brought to theater played a big part in the evolution that continues to this very day. The best part of the book is the intriguing layout of images and text that invites the reader to fully interact with the book. Some images require flipping the book vertically, such as the old photograph of the Iroquois Theatre and the illustrated playbill listing the cast of characters in a play in the Chapter 6, "An Unforgivable Disaster." The vertical placement of the chapter sections on the right-hand edge of the page place the images front and center, allowing the reader to fully contemplate and enjoy the images.

The book fulfills the promise of Blatchford's forward as a love note to Chicago, a city that still takes a backseat to New York and Los Angeles in terms of cultural cache. Underneath its once gritty veneer of stockyards, graft and organized crime lies a rich history of diverse pioneers, social activists and actors, both professional and amateur, who made invaluable contributions to theater. Gorgeously illustrated with a soft cover, this book works equally well as a coffee table book and reference book for educators, theater fans, Chicago lovers and anyone who enjoys thumbing through books and looking at memorabilia.  - V
anessa M. 

​Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad! is an amazing visual journey through Chicago theater history. As an actor in Chicago for 25 years, I am familiar with some of the history covered in the book, Second City, The Candle Light Dinner Theater, and the Organic Theater. I was amazed to see the depiction of Chicago's theatrical past that I was unfamiliar with. A history going back to the 19th century. After reading through the book several times I felt a sense of pride. I realized that I am one of the inheritors of this tradition. Awesome book, a must have for any theater enthusiast. - LOGOSELF

“Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad” is an engaging and stately romp through Chicago’s colorful theater and entertainment history as Blatchford and Sowinski take us on a journey from Chicago’s humble theatrical beginnings to its present day state as a major international theatrical presence. Pictorially rich and clearly written, “WIUB” helps to define Chicago’s current status as a theatrical mecca by revealing Chicago Theater's gritty vaudevillian origins as well as the unlikely roots in social justice theater that led to the current groundbreaking theatrical form known as “Improv.” Other intriguing histories include the history of the WPA Theater and the “Living Newspaper," the beginnings of the Steppenwolf and the Goodman theaters as well as the origin of the international hit musical “Grease” in an “off-loop” Chicago Theater. Satisfying and informative, Chicago history buffs as well as Chicago theater lovers alike will relish this collection of Chicago theater history into one attractive and entertaining tome. - Amazon customer

Pete Blatchford's book takes the reader on an accessible yet detailed journey of Chicago theater from it's bawdy beginnings to the modern era with beautiful art, photos and maps. A must have for fans of the arts whether or not you hail from Chicago. Important and informative it showcases how important a town known in the mid 1800's " the wickedest city in the United States" has influenced and empowered society and culture across the globe. Bravo!   -  Amazon customer

About Us
photograph of pete blatchford chicago actor and author of Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad!
photograph of jennifer sowinski graphic designer and editor for Wicked, Immoral, Utterly Bad!
Pete Blatchford: author & publisher.

Pete Blatchford is a veteran of Chicago theatre. Pete's credits as a playwright include The Night Chicago Died and The Warthogs of Wartonia. He has written adaptations of The Count of Monte Cristo and The War of the Worlds. As an actor, he has appeared on stage in Chicago, New York and Edinburgh, Scotland. Pete received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Roosevelt University. He lives in Chicago.
Jennifer Sowinski: graphic layout & design, editor.

Jennifer Sowinski is a freelance English major with self-taught skills in photography and graphics. She lived in Chicago for 20 years, and currently lives in South Bend, Indiana.