Oh, Fiddle Sticks! A Look Back At Dennis The Menace

On March 12, 1951, Dennis the Menace made its comic strip debut in only 16 newspapers. It would eventually become one of the most beloved newspaper comic strips in the world, and eight years after its debut, Hollywood decided to turn it into a weekly television series for CBS in the fall of 1959. Produced by Dariell Productions and Screen Gems, the show followed the energetic, young boy Dennis Mitchell as he got into constant and disastrous run-ins with his neighbor and best friend Mr. Wilson.

Dennis The Menace Had Its TV Debut In 1959

What many viewers didn’t realize, however, was that the actors had their own struggles behind the scenes. Read on as we unravel what happened then and where the actors are now.

Jay North as Dennis

Jay North became one of the biggest child actors in the early ’60s with his portrayal of Dennis Mitchell. He began his well-known career at the mere age of six first scene in the television show Cartoon Express. Shortly after, he became a household name acting in Dennis the Menace. After the show ended, he became the voice of Bamm-Bamm Rubble in the ’70s cartoon series The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show. In his teens, he went on to act in roles in the feature films Zebra in the Kitchen and Maya. He later continued acting well into his adult years.

Source: Sitcoms Online
Source: Sitcoms Online

How it All Began

As you may know, Dennis the Menace is derived from the comic strip of the same name developed by cartoonist Hank Ketcham. Ketcham found inspiration for the comic in his son, whose name is also Dennis. As the story goes, Ketcham’s wife at the time was trying to get their son to take a nap, but instead decided to make a huge mess of his room. Aggravated, Ketchum’s wife came to him and said, “Your son is a menace!”

Ketcham was born in Seattle, Washington and realized his love for drawing when he was only six years old. One night, during that fateful year of his life, his father had a friend over who happened to be an illustrator. Somehow, the friend got to talking about young Ketcham about drawing, Ketcham picked up a pencil, and the rest is Dennis the Menace history.

The Real-Life Dennis

Dennis Ketcham, the Dennis the Menace cartoon strip’s namesake, ended up having a somewhat tragic life. At the age of 12, not only were his parents in the middle of a divorce, his mother died of a drug overdose. His father, Hank Ketcham, relocated them to Switzerland along with Ketcham’s new wife (young Dennis’ new stepmother), where Dennis had a hard time adjusting. Because of the this, Hank sent his son back to the US for boarding school, while he found a new wife and started a new family. After straightening out his life, real-life Dennis joined the military and fought in Vietnam.

Dennis Ketcham Is A Vietnam Veteran

Later, Dennis Ketcham suffered from PTSD and, as mentioned earlier, remained estranged from his successful father. In one interview Hank Ketcham did with The New York Times he said about his son, “He’s living in the East somewhere doing his own thing,” Mr. Ketcham said in March. “That’s just a chapter that was a short one that closed, which unfortunately happens in some families.”

Hank Ketcham retired from his long and successful career in 1994. He enjoyed another seven years of life painting oil and watercolor in Carmel California. The cartoonist passed away in 2001.

Father of the Menace: Herbert Anderson

On the show, Herbert Anderson played Dennis’ dad Henry Mitchell. He grew up in California and his father, a Norwegian immigrant, was the Oakland city treasurer in the 1920s. He attended Oakland High School and the Univesity of California, Berkely. Anderson really started to get noticed for his acting after he acted in the movie Navy Blues in 1941 alongside Martha Raye and Ann Sheridan. However, although he is most remembered for his role as Henry Mitchell, he had a successful acting career having many leading and guest star roles throughout the years.

Source: Sitcoms Online
Source: Sitcoms Online

After the Show

After his time on Dennis the menace, he had become a well-recognized actor and guest-starred on many TV shows some of which included I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Family Affair, Batman, The Brady Bunch, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sea Hunt, My Three Sons, and The Bing Crosby Show. In 1982, the California native retired from acting after heart surgery. His last role was in the 1975 TV series The Waltons. On June 11, 1994, in Palm Springs California, Anderson died from complications after having a stroke at the age of 77.

Mother of the Menace: Gloria Henry

Gloria Henry played the role of Dennis’ mom Alice Mitchell on the show. Studying at the Worcester Art Museum School after growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, Henry was determined to work in the arts and entertainment industries. When she graduated, she immediately moved to Los Angeles and started getting roles on radio shows and in small theater groups. This is when she started using the name Gloria Henry, as opposed to her birth name, Gloria McEniry. In 1959, she landed the role as Alice Mitchell which really jumpstarted her career.

Source: Sitcoms Online
Source: Sitcoms Online

What happened to Her?

After the TV series came to a close, the New Orleans native ‘s career greatly slowed down. She then had small roles on Silver Spoons, Sisters, Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess, and Doogie Howser, M.D.Some of her other notable credits include roles in Dallas, Doin’ Time on Planet Earth, Falcon Crest, The Brady Brides, The Snoop Sisters, and Hazel. She has also been known attending film festivals and nostalgia events. In 2012, she made a guest appearance on the hit NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. Gloria Henry has three children is 93 years old.

Joseph Kearns as Mr. Wilson

Joseph Kearns, who was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and grew up in California. He portrayed Dennis’ neighbor, the grumpy and irritable Mr. Wilson. Kearns is also well-known known for being the voice of Doorknob in the 1952 animated film Alice In Wonderland. Mr. Wilson was his final role; the actor passed away on February 17, 1962, at the age of 55 from a cerebral hemorrhage. His final appearance was the episode “The Man Next Door,” which aired on May 6, 1962. Some of Joseph Kearns’ other roles included appearing on TV shows such as Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, I Love Lucy, My Little Margie, Perry Mason, I married Joan, December Bride, It’s a Great Life, and General Electric Theater.

A New Mr. Kearns?

After Kearns’ death, the show had to replace him in order to continue to keep Mr. Wilson on the show. He was replaced by Gale Gordon, who had previously played Mr. Wilson’s brother on the show. Although he was a replacement, h;e had a decent acting career himself. He was an adored radio actor and was also remembered as Lucille Ball’s longtime television foil and even more as the bank executive Theodore J. Mooney on the television comedy The Lucy Show. He also had roles on Here’s Lucy and Life With Lucy. he continued to appear in film and TV roles up until 1991 and he passed away on June 30, 1995.


Gale Gordon Was Inducted into Two Halls of Fame

Gale Gordon (born Charles Thomas Aldrich, Jr.) played the role of Mr. Wilson’s brother John Wilson and later Mr. Wilson himself. The New York City native is best known for his radio work in The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon and Green Acres. Besides these roles, Gordon also appeared in I Love Lucy, The Real McCoys, Don’t Give Up the Ship, The ‘Burbs, The New Lassie, Visit to a Small Planet, and Pete and Gladys. He was well-known for what was called the “slow-burn” anger in the roles that he played.

Gale Gordon Was A Jack Of All Trades

Besides acting, Gordon also wrote books. In the 1940s he wrote two books, Nursery Rhymes for Hollywood Babies and Leaves from the Story Trees. When Gordon and his wife decided to make roots in San Diego County they bought 150 acres in Borrego Springs. Gordon didn’t just sit back and relax on his land, however. He built a good portion of their home, restored their furniture, and enjoyed life as a rancher.

On June 30, 1995, Gordon passed away from lung cancer at the age of 89 in Escondido, California at the Redwood Terrace Health Center. His wife of 60 years passed away a month before him. In 1999, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Hall of Fame.

Ratings Plummetted After Kearns’ Death

After the death of Joseph Kearns during season three, many thought that it would be a tough climb to get back on the rating track. The fourth season didn’t even land in the Top 30 and was eventually canceled. Kearn’s death occurred right after the show’s 100th episode was finished. Before Kearns’ death, the show had been climbing in in the ratings, so it is assumed that his death is associated with the show’s subsequent drop in ratings. And can we really be surprised? The character of Mr. Wilson served as an important character off of whom Dennis’ absurdly mischievous ways seemed even more funny and entertaining. Although Gale Gordon was a successful entertainer in every way, without this beloved character played by the familiar face of Joseph Kearns, the show wasn’t the same.

Sylvia Field as Martha Wilson

Sylvia Field (born Harriet Louisa Johnson) was the actor who played the role of Mr. Wilson’s wife Martha. She was born and raised in Massachusetts and had her first stage role at the age of 17 in the Broadway play The Betrothal in 1918. Her first role on the screen was in 1928 when she had a role in the movie The Home Girl. Her first TV appearances started in the 1940s, and she was in a sitcom based on her life called The Truex Family. She also had a role in the sitcom The Peepers and guest-starred in shows such as Producers Showcase, Start Tonight, General Electric Theatre, The Ann Sothern Show, and Perry Mason. She played the role of Martha Wilson up until Joseph Kearns Death

Life After Mrs. Wilson

After the death of Joseph Kearns, her character of Mrs. Wilson was written out of the show. The Massachusetts native made guest-starring appearances on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Our Man Higgins, Hazel, Harry O, Petticoat Junction, and Occasional Wife. She made her final on-screen appearance in Kathleen Collin’s 1980 film, The Cruz Brothers, and Mrs. Mallorey. Field married three times, Robert J. Frowhlich in 1934, Harold Moffat in 1930, and Ernest Truex in 1941 and lived out her final days in Fallbrook, California. On July 31, 1998, she passed away at the age of 97.

Billy Booth Died Young

Billy Booth, born William Allen Booth, played the role of Dennis’ friend Tommy Anderson in Dennis the Menace. Booth was born in 1949 and was most well-known for his role on the sitcom. he went on to have appearances on the television shows The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons. After that, he decided that acting wasn’t going to be his ultimate goals in life, so, he retired from acting to become a lawyer and taught business law at Cuesta College and Cal Poly. On December 31, 2006, Booth passed away at the age of 57 from liver complications.

Billy Booth’s Unintentional Acting Career

After his death, in an interview with Billy’s sister Bonnie, she noted, “Billy got involved in television purely by accident. During a Little League game, someone approached my Mom and asked if she would mind if an agent contacted her. This person thought Billy would be just right for commercials. And that’s what happened. We lived in Southern California and were not far from Hollywood. He went on some interviews and started getting these jobs. But, Billy never was seeking out the entertainment business.” Sounds like a lucky break for Billy and he certainly made a name for himself during his short time on screen.

Sara Seegar as Eloise Wilson

Sara Seegar played the role of John Wilson’s wife Eloise on the show, which became the role for which she is best known. Born in Greentown, Indiana, Sara Seegar was educated in London and Paris when she was very young and then came back to the States for high school, graduating from Hollywood High School. She is one of five sisters, and two of her sisters were involved in the entertainment industry as well. She was a regular character actor with roles on Suspense, Perry Mason, and The Donna Reed Show. Although she was originally known for playing Eloise Wilson, she eventually replaced Sylvia Field for the role of the original Mrs. Wilson after the death of Joseph Kearns.

After the Show…

After her time on Dennis the Menace ended, the Indiana native landed recurring roles on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, The Brady Bunch, and Bewitched. Some more of her notable film roles include the following: The Last Curtain, Smash and Grab, Mr. Reeder in Room 13, Dead Men Tell No Tales, and The Music Man. Sara Seegar was married to Ezra Stone from 1942 until her death, and they had two children together, Josef and Francine. On August 12, 1990, Seegar died from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 76.

Jeannie Russell Had a Crush on Dennis

Jeannie Russell played the role of Margaret Wade, who had a crush on Dennis and appeared in 31 of the 146 episodes of Dennis the Menace. Jay North, who played Dennis, suggested that Russel would be perfect for the role. She would also make a cameo appearance in the 1993 film adaptation. She appeared in other TV shows around the same time as Dennis the Menace including The Deputy, Assignment: Underwater, Death Valley Days, and The Dinah Shore Show. She showed off her singing skills in the Disney movie Babes in Toyland. She also had a very small role in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie The Birds and was on many national talk shows during the 1990s. Russell has been working as a chiropractor since 1978. In 2015, she appeared in the TV film Life Interrupted.

Mrs. Lucky Elakins: Irene Tedrow

Irene Tedrow had the recurring role of Mrs. Lucy Elkins, the Mitchell family’s neighbor, appearing in 26 episodes of the sitcom. Tedrow was born and raised in Denver, Colorado and studied at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She also studied with Ben Iden Payne who was a director at the Memorial Theater at Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown, in England. She was also well known for her roles of Janet Archer on the radio show Meet Corliss Archer and Mrs. Webb in the play Our Town at Plumstead Playhouse.

She Was Very Successful

After leaving Dennis the Menace, the Denver native would go on to gain Emmy-nominated roles in Eleanor and Franklin and James at 15. Some of her other notable TV appearances included roles on Lux Video Theatre, Jefferson Drum, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, and The Andy Griffith Show She was married to William Kent, who passed away before she did, and they had two children together. On March 10, 1995, Tedrow died from a stroke at the age of 87 in Hollywood, California. She was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

The Sergeant: George Cisar

George Cisar played the role of Sergeant Harold Mooney on 31 episodes of the series. After the series closed, the Illinois native portrayed Cyrus Tankersley on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. A career background role player, Cisar had more than one hundred roles in the twenty years that he worked in the entertainment industry. Many of his background parts included playing policemen and bartenders. Some of the other TV shows he appeared on included Ironside, Valentine’s Day, Gunsmoke, The Beverly Hillbillies, Grindl, The Lieutenant, The Untouchables, Leave It to Beaver, and Surfside 6. On June 13, 1979, Cisar died at the age of 66. His last role was in the 1970 film …tick… tick… tick…

The Grocer: Willard Waterman

Willard Waterman played the role of grocer Otis Quigley on the series. The Wisconsin native, who was a founding member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is best known for his work on the radio show The Great Gildersleeve and the film Auntie Mame. Waterman is from Madison, Wisconsin and studied at the University of Wisconsin in the 1930s where he got his start in entertainment and joined the university’s radio station, WHA.

Some of his notable film appearances include It Happens Every Thursday and Get Yourself a College Girl. He also appeared in multiple plays. On February 2, 1995, Waterman passed away at the age of 80 from bone marrow disease in Burlingame, California. There is a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in honor of his work.

A Very Young Ron Howard

Ron Howard was the eldest son of Jean Speegle Howard, an actress, and Rance Howard, an actor, writer, and director. After his first role in The Journey in 1959, he went on and played the role of Dennis’ friend Stewart during the first season when he was very young. The Oklahoma native would leave to join The Andy Griffith Show. He had a solid career as an actor and then went on to have an even longer and more successful career in directing. He has since become one of the most popular directors and producers in recent years.

From Acting to Directing

As much success as he had as an actor has surely been surpassed by his directing. he has been nominated for four Oscar Awards and won two for his 2001 film A Beautiful Mind. Some of his most popular recent films include Splash, Cocoon, Willow, Parenthood, Backdraft, Apollo 13, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Inferno, Rush, and In the Heart of the Sea. He is set to produce the upcoming Curious George film slated to be released in 2022. He has been married to his wife Cheryl Alley since 1975 and they have four children together. Howard is a Democrat and openly supported Barack Obama in his presidential campaigns.

Charles Lane Appeared in over 250 Films

Charles Lane, who played the role of drugstore owner Lawrence Finch on the show has appeared in over 250 films in his 64-year acting career. Lane was an important figure in the entertainment industry and in the 1930s. Only a few years after he started acting, became one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild.

He had roles in many Frank Capra films such as It’s a Wonderful Life and You Can’t Take It With You. He often acted with Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and The Lucy Show. At the age of 90, he gave his last performance in the 1995 TV movie The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. In 2007. he passed away at the age of 102 from natural causes.

Funny Guy Edward Everett Horton

Edward Everett Horton played the role of John Wilson’s comedic uncle Ned Matthews. Horton was born in Brooklyn in 1886 and went to college in Ohio at Oberlin, then Brooklyn Polytechnic, and finally Columbia University. Before he got his start on TV or in films, Horton began his career in the entertainment industry playing vaudeville parts and acting on Broadway. His first starring role was in the comedy Too Much Business, and later in beggar on Horseback. These films essentially branded his as a comic actor which stuck with him throughout the rest of his career.

The Comedy Continues

Later, he found his passion and began acting in comedy films such as The Front Page, Trouble in Paradise, Alice in Wonderland, and The Gay Divorce. He also hosted and had parts on a few radio shows in the mid to late ‘40s such as Kraft Music Hall, Sham, and The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre. The New York City native was a fixture in a plethora of comedy films in the ’30s. His most famous role was the narrator for “Fractured Fairy Tales” on The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. On September 29, 1970, he died from cancer at the age of 84 in Encino, California.

Network Feared Kids Would Learn to Be Menaces

The character of Dennis is known for his wild antics on the show. Although the character of Dennis is a well-meaning little boy, often finds himself getting into a fair amount of trouble by making matters worse, especially with his retired neighbor George Wilson. With that being said, it is more than understandable that when CBS agreed to air the show after Lassie, there were some concerns that kids watching would try to imitate him and get into some serious trouble. The network told producers, James Fonda and Harry Ackerman, to tone down his antics. So, it’s clear in the later seasons that the character had been toned down opposed to the earlier episodes.

Famous Houses

The houses that the Mitchells and the Wilsons lived in could be stars in their own right. Before the Mitchells lived there, the house was built in the 1930s for a movie called Party Wire, and then became the house of the Stone family on The Donna Reed Show. The Wilson’s house was built in the 1930s as well for a film series called Blondie before it became home to other popular shows such as Father Knows Best, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and The Partridge Family.

The Studio Got A Lot Of Use Out Of The Set

Mrs. Elkins, a neighbor on the TV series, lived in what was also used as The Patridge Family home. The Wilsons’ home was originally built for the Blondie film series in 1936. The TV shows really got the bang for their buck out of those TV houses. And the set designers did, as well. We can only imagine that those who created these famous TV houses were able to take a whole lot of pride in seeing their creations used on different TV shows for thousands of people to see for years and years to come.

Slight Name Change in the U.K.

While the TV show Dennis the Menace was airing in the United States, the U.K. already had their own comic strip originally titled Dennis the Menace. When the show aired overseas, it was shortened to just Dennis in order to avoid any sort of confusion. Though the series was based on the same comic strip, there were slight differences in order to not confuse the two technically the same yet different characters. In the UK, Dennis is drawn as wearing a red and black striped jumper with spiky black hair accompanied by his dog Gnasher. In the US, he is blonde and wears a red and white striped t-shirt with overalls and has a sheepdog named Ruff.

A Pocketful of Guest Stars

Dennis the Menace featured a long list of guest stars throughout its four seasons. Some of the guest stars featured include voice acting legend Mel Blanc and original Mickey Mouse Club member Cheryl Holdridge. Mel Blanc had a long career in the entertainment industry with some of his most famous roles being Bugs Bunny, Gideon the Cat from Pinocchio, Woody Woodpecker, and Porky Pig. Cheryl Holdridge, also highly involved in the Disney world, and was a part of the first Mickey Mouse Club in 1956. There was also MLB Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel John A. Powers, and Oscar-nominated actress Spring Byington all who made guest appearances at different times on Dennis the Menace as well.

Dennis and the Dodger

While many guest stars often assumed the roles of new characters, few often had to play themselves in a TV show. However, that wasn’t the case for Los Angeles Dodger alum Sandy Koufax who appeared as himself in season three of the series. Specifically, he appeared in the episode entitled “Dennis and the Dodger.” Mr. Quigley is the pee wee baseball coach and needs to get the team new uniforms. Yet, he discovers that the mayor will only give them uniforms if Sandy Koufax himself plays a game in town with the rest of the Dodgers. He does, and Mr. Quigley becomes jealous when he is no longer the center of attention.

Bob Hastings Guest Stars…

Actor Bob Hastings might have had the most guest appearances, five in all, on Dennis the Menace. While he never played himself, he never appeared on the show as the same character twice. His most notable guest appearance on the show was as Coach Gilmore in season four’s “The Big Basketball Game.”

Hastings was born in New York and started his career in the entertainment industry on the radio. In the 1960s and 1970s he appeared on many TV shows including Green Acres, Hennessy, Room for One More, Window on Main Street, Hogan’s Heroes, and Car 54, Where Are You? Hastings passed away on June 30, 2014, from prostate cancer in Burbank, California. He was 89.

Dennis the Menace Guest Stars?

While the show itself hosted many guest stars, it occasionally lent its star to other shows as well. In the prime of Dennis the Menace, the show’s title star Jay North became a hit. His popularity sparked many crossover guest appearances as Dennis on other shows at the time such as The Donna Reed Show and The Red Skelton Hour. He also was featured in the film Pépé. These guest appearances and work outside the show were some of North’s only times to let loose, as his parents and other family members were very strict with him and limited his free time and fun.

A Face Made for Fame

Jay North as a brand, not just as an actor, turned out to be a commercial success as well. He was the star in commercials for the show’s previous sponsors, Skippy peanut butter, and Kellogg’s cereals. He also had the opportunity to do ads for Best Foods mayonnaise and Bosco chocolate as he traveled around the country to promote his show. Apparently, people’s associations with his face as the lovable but mischievous Dennis helped him sell things to big audiences. As you can imagine, this amount of hard work took a toll on the kid. He was less than 10 years old for much of this time, so you can’t really blame him for feeling a bit worn out.

A Record Deal?

In 1960, Dennis the Menace sparked interest for vinyl record albums. As mentioned earlier, Jay North recorded two LPs: The Misadventures of Dennis the Menace” consisted of soundtrack stories and Jay North – Look who’s singing! was an album packed full of boyish songs. The latter included a song titled “When I Become a Man,” in which North sings about what he would do when he gets older, which was pretty much breaking all the rules he was confined to as a child. There were also songs such as “What is a Mom?” and “What is a Good Girl?” which ask innocent questions from a little boy’s perspective.

A Popular Troublemaker

Dennis was notorious for all the trouble he caused for those around him. As a result, TV Guide ranked the character Dennis Mitchell at number eight on their list of “TV’s 10 Biggest Brats.” However, after reading about some of the hardships that he faced as a young actor, it would be hard to assume that these difficulties did not play a role in how he presented himself to the world.

If you were famous at a young age before you could really understand what that meant, you might misbehave too. This could also just be a misrepresentation of his true character. It may have been a better news story to describe him as being like his character on the show. Perhaps he wasn’t that bad after all. Of course, since we weren’t there to befriend the little menace, we will never truly know.

Mother and Son

Many parents of child stars are notorious for feeding off of their child’s fame, but not Dorthy North. As a single mother, Dorthy was able to support her family. She introduced her son to a career that would sustain him for the rest of his life, while she continued her own career.

In a 1993 interview, her son North wanted to make it clear that he did not support his mother while he was working on Dennis the Menace. Dorthy maintained a job with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and never lived off of her son’s earnings. Instead, she hired business managers to invest his earnings for them.

A Child Star’s Salary

At the start of the show, North made $500 per episode and by the fourth season, he earned $3,500 an episode. If you consider the rate of inflation (remember, this show was on in the 1950s and 1960s) that is a whole lot of money. Especially for a young child. It is commendable and refreshing to hear from a parent who did not take advantage of her actor child’s wages.

It is sad, however, that she was unaware of what North was being subjected to while working on the set. It made his experience as a child actor far worse than it could have been. Dorthy had no idea that this was going on, and North hid his pain. The abuse he took from this person, his aunt, would go on to affect him for the rest of his life.

Behind Closed Doors

Unbeknownst to many until recent years, Jay North was a victim of abuse at the hands of his aunt. Because his mother still worked during the day, she enlisted her sister, Mary Hopper, and her brother-in-law to be North’s on-set guardians. North’s Aunt Mary turned out to be quite strict. He wasn’t allowed to socialize with the other children on-set aside from school and filming and was confined to his dressing room. In addition, Aunt Mary would physically and verbally abuse him when he made mistakes during filming.


North Hid His Pain, And No One Noticed

During the show’s run, no one was aware that this was happening, not even North’s mother. In fact, North never even revealed that anything like this was going on until many years later. He has been quoted as saying that he never said anything because he was afraid of how his aunt would get back at him. He must have been really scared of her.

Another child actor, Jeannie Russel, who played the role of Margaret Wade, said in an interview, “‘The show comes first.’ This was the ethic that we were raised in. Had I seen any abuse or any horrible upset on Jay’s part, I would have noticed. It would have impacted me. It would have upset me terribly.”

Hard to Bounce Back

As mentioned earlier, after the show’s cancellation, Jay North struggled to find more acting jobs. He eventually lost hope in 1977. Afterward, he decided to join the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the Navy’s lowest rank as a seaman recruit bosun’s mate. Despite his good and hard work on the job, he was constantly harassed by his fellow shipmates because he was a former child star. He left the Navy on honorable discharge in 1979.

Life After Child Stardom Was Tough

You would think that being famous would usually get a person better treatment in life as opposed to treatment that is worse than average. Apparently, that’s not so. For North, having the burden of ex-child star hurt him both within and without the entertainment industry. It is a sad story, and yet it is only too common that child actors end up having lives that are less than wonderful after their childhood glory days.

The Jay North Death Hoax

on December 8, 1988, Jay North found himself at the center of a not-so-funny hoax. His mother Dorothy received a call notifying her that her son had died in a doctors office. According to a story from the United Press International, his body had been found at 12:35 earlier that morning. The article even quoted a doctor by the name of Robert Tobias, who North had never even met. Around this time, there had also been many imposters attempting to pass off as North . in response to this North stated, “I’m not on the ‘A’ party list, I’m not a hot item, so they don’t know what I look like.

A Minor Consideration

After struggling in his post-Dennis the Menace life, North found solace with the help of his childhood friends: co-star Jeannie Russell and Paul Petersen, who were on The Donna Reed Show. They encouraged North to seek counseling and put him in touch with a therapist who specialized in helping troubled child actors. Paul Petersen founded A Minor Consideration, an organization that helped child stars deal with the pressures and difficulties of their demanding jobs at a young age.

A Minor Consideration Helped North Get Back On His Feet

It can be assumed that this was a life-saving measure that North’s friend took, and without it, he would have had an even rockier road ahead of him. Sometimes, it only takes one person to really change the course of a person’s life. Luckily, the group, A Minor Consideration, exists and in it, those who experienced similar difficulties after growing up famous can find comfort and a sense of community and understanding.

Production Oops!

There is probably not a good show out there that hasn’t had production mistakes along the way. For Dennis the Menace, there are inconsistencies with how the house is structured. While images of the front of the house on Elm Street where the Mitchells reside on the show reveal a window on both sides of the front door, scenes that take place inside the house will reveal that there is no window on either side of the door.

Were There Multiple Sets?

In addition, when the camera shows shots of the house from outside on Elm Street, it appears that the driveway is just outside the living room. But in some of the episodes in season 2, it’s clear that there’s a door in the living room that leads to the outside where there’s a fence. Not a driveway. Perhaps this is because the show used multiple sets? Or perhaps it was merely an oversight on the creators’ parts.

Old Mr. Wilson

While in the comic strip Mr. Wilson was a retired postman, in the television series Mr. Wilson was retired from retail. He was previously a store manager for the Women’s Wear Department in Pittsburgh. He was actually requested to come out of retirement when he was wanted for his management skills for the Cramer Business Machines Company in the episode “Out of Retirement.” It’s interesting that the show creators decided to go in this direction with Mr. Wilson’s character. Perhaps they figured that there was more to the idea of him as a retail worker than as a postman.

Ketcham Makes it Big

The creator of the Dennis the Menace comic Hank Ketcham was from Wichita, Kansas. Due to the success of the comic strip, as well as the creation of the television show, the Ketcham was made the honorary mayor of Wichita. The comic is also what helped to put Wichita on the map because most people believe that it is where all of Dennis’ adventures take place. So, not only did Ketcham make a timeless comic, but what made honorary mayor of his city, while also making more than enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life. He has his son Dennis to thank for that.

Where is He Now?

As an adult, North turned to voice acting for the animated television series Arabian Knights segment of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour as the character Prince Turhan. Currently, he has an extensive filmography that runs from 1957, all the way until 2003. In his early adult years, he also became involved with the A Minor Consideration Program to help child stars deal with the pressures and difficulties he faced growing up. His last performance was in the 2003 comedy film Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Now, believe it or not, he currently works for the Florida Department of Corrections as a correctional officer.

From Comics to Cartoons

The success of the 1959 Dennis the Menace television series sparked multiple spin-offs in later years. In 1986, DIC Entertainment created an animated series that was based on the original comic strip. Drawn in a style that is very similar to the original comic, the series centers around Dennis, his dog, and his adventures with friends. It was broadcast in many countries around the world including the USA, Canada, Turkey, Russia, the UK, Australia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. Like the TV show, it focuses on Dennis’ misadventures and mishaps but makes Dennis seem lovable. Mr. Wilson definitely plays a role in this animated series, and each half-hour show consisted of a few different shorts.

Dennis in the Movies

In 1993, Warner Bros. Pictures released a live-action film, probably with hopes to spark nostalgia for viewers of the original series. The film follows the same premise as the show Dennis the Menace, as a young Dennis constantly causes trouble for his elderly neighbor Mr. Wilson, but this version was written with modern ‘90s flair. Bowl cuts ensue, of course. Starring Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Robert Stanton, and Mason Gamble as Dennis, the film turned out to be a box-office success.

The Film Had Mixed Reviews

The film had a $35 million budget and grossed $51.3 million here in the US and even more overseas. It did receive some bad ratings, even getting a rotten rating of 23% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it made a lot of money nonetheless. One of the most notable criticism was that it followed the “Home Alone formula far too closely.” Robert Ebert gave the movie two and a half stars.

Photo: Warner Brothers
Photo: Warner Brothers

Still, when fans of the comic and TV series heard of a film being created, many rushed their children to audition for the role of Dennis. In fact, Mason Gamble out-performed a reported 20,000 children for the role!

Anyone Can Be Dennis

Following the success of the film, in an era where at-home video games were becoming all the rage a Dennis the Menace video game was a necessity. So, Ocean Software released a Dennis the Menace video game for Super Nintendo and Gameboy. Any scenario you can dream of in the TV show or movie, you can now act out yourself, maybe even coming up with a better outcome. You can even team up with Mr. Wilson and really create some chaos. And then, of course, save the day. However, even in the game, Dennis drives Mr. Wilson crazy.

Missing Dennis?

Luckily, he is not totally gone. In fact, you can still watch all kinds of Dennis in more than one way. After the show’s cancellation, it entered syndication on numerous channels throughout the years. If you are still in the mood to tune into lovable Dennis’s crazy antics, you can currently stream the series on Hulu. There are four seasons and 146 episodes (it originally aired from 1959 to 1963), so you have plenty of watching to do. So head on over to Elm Street and get to watching. You’ll always be able to get your Dennis the Menace fix.