Dennis the Menace (1959 TV series) facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsDennis the Menace
CBS promotional title card for Dennis the Menace
|Created by||Based on the comic strip by Hank Ketcham|
|Theme music composer||William Loose
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||146 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Harry Ackerman|
|Producer(s)||James Fonda (1959–61)
Winston O'Keefe (1961–63)
|Running time||25 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Dariell Productions
Hank Ketcham Enterprises
Sony Pictures Television
|Original release||October 4, 1959– July 7, 1963|
Dennis the Menace is an American sitcom based on the Hank Ketcham comic strip of the same name. It preceded The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evenings on CBS from October 1959 to July 1963. The series starred Jay North as Dennis Mitchell; Herbert Anderson as his father, Henry; Gloria Henry as his mother, Alice; Joseph Kearns as George Wilson; Gale Gordon as George's brother, John Wilson; Sylvia Field as George's wife, Martha Wilson; and Sara Seegar as John's wife, Eloise Wilson.
Originally sponsored by Kellogg's cereals and Best Foods (Skippy peanut butter), the series was produced by Dariell Productions and Screen Gems.
The show follows the lives of the Mitchell family – Henry, Alice, and their only child, Dennis, an energetic, trouble-prone, mischievous, but well-meaning boy, who often tangles first with his peace-and-quiet-loving neighbor, George Wilson, a retired salesman, and later with George's brother John, a writer.
While the series was based on the Dennis the Menace comic strip, differences exist between the two. On the sitcom and in the comics, Dennis is basically a good, well-intentioned boy who always tries to help people, but winds up making situations worse – often at Mr. Wilson's expense. In early episodes of the first season, more outlandish disasters occurred as a result of his actions. The character of Dennis was toned down by the sixth or seventh episode. Instead of Dennis's dog Ruff, a smaller Cairn Terrier (per the episode "Miss Cathcart's Friend") named Fremont belonged to George and Martha Wilson. He did not appear during the fourth season, when John and Eloise Wilson moved into 625 Elm Street.
With CBS seeking to replace the hit show it had lost when it allowed Leave It to Beaver to migrate to ABC, a pilot episode titled "Dennis Goes to the Movies" was filmed in late 1958. In the pilot, Dennis was younger and his speech, voice tone, and character had not been as developed as in episodes later in the 1959–1960 season. In the episode, Dennis causes much destruction such as burying a hose (installing an automatic sprinkler system), trying to repair a leg on the kitchen table and causing it to collapse, and almost knocking Mr. Wilson off the ladder and causing him to ruin his shoes as he steps in a can of paint, among other things. Dennis's parents then announce that they are going to the movies to see a Western (that Dennis wanted to see "all my life") and that Dennis would stay home with a sitter.
Because none of the babysitters in the neighborhood would help out because of Dennis's mischief, the Mitchells find an older lady, Mrs. Porter (Madge Blake), who has never met Dennis. Dennis then switches places with Joey and sneaks out to the same movie his parents are seeing. Joey stays home and Mrs. Porter thinks he is Dennis. Meanwhile, Dennis causes havoc at the theater, even demanding that the projectionist repeat a scene. His parents suspect that Dennis is there causing these problems and call Mrs. Porter at the house; she assures them that Dennis has been good. Dennis beats his parents home and is in bed by the time they return, but he makes noises trying to borrow Mr. Wilson's ladder to climb back into his upstairs bedroom window. This causes Mr. Wilson to go outside to see what is wrong. Mr. Wilson is arrested for armed robbery when he is found with Dennis's toy gun. The final scene where Joey jumps into bed with Dennis was filmed in the summer of 1959, after half a dozen episodes had been filmed (Dennis was several months older, has a different hairstyle, and is wearing different clothes) to make the episode fit the half-hour time segment.
In early 1959, several other episodes were filmed, including "The Fishing Trip", "Dennis Gets a Duck", "Dennis Runs Away", "The Cowboy", "Open House" (Margaret's debut; this episode was made before, but aired after, "The Sign Post"), and "Dennis Becomes a Babysitter" (in which Margaret also appears). At that point, CBS consented to air the program at 7:30 pm EST on Sunday evenings after Lassie. After viewing these episodes, CBS determined that Dennis's antics had to be toned down lest his actions would encourage children watching the show to imitate Dennis.
Several weeks before the series debuted, the episode "The Sign Post" was produced in which Tommy made his debut. Margaret, who appeared in two episodes made before but aired after, appeared along with Joey. After the pilot aired as the first episode, "The Sign Post" aired and after that "Fishing Trip", the second episode, aired. After that, newly made episodes aired mixed in with the initial batch made earlier in 1959, which explains why "Dennis Runs Away", which was the fourth or fifth episode was run later in the first run, and shows an obviously younger Dennis as in the earlier episodes. Also, the episode "Dennis and the Rare Coin" was made before "Dennis Runs Away", but aired after. On both episodes, Dennis is at the police station. On "Dennis and the Rare Coin", where Dennis is given milk, he states, "last time I came here I got ice cream", referring to the episode "Dennis Runs Away", where he got an ice-cream cone at the police station, which was made before, but aired after. Joey was gradually phased out in season one. Dennis's friend Stewart appeared in a few episodes in the first season, played by Ron Howard, who soon after became Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show.
Dennis and Mr. Wilson had a love-hate relationship, with Dennis always aggravating Mr. Wilson, but usually without realizing it. He would call Mr. Wilson his "best friend", and often referred to him as "Good Ol' Mr. Wilson", while on many occasions, Mr. Wilson would tell Dennis, "You have far better friends than me." Mrs. Wilson, however, loved Dennis in a grandmotherly way and tried to make the situation better between the two. Other neighbors and townspeople aired on a recurring basis included Mrs. Lucy Elkins (a widowed neighbor and the town gossip), Mrs. Dorothy Holland (another widow who aired on a recurring basis in season one only), Miss Esther Cathcart (a lonely spinster), Mr. Otis Quigley (the grocer), Opie Swanson (the TV/appliance store owner), Mr. Lawrence Finch (the druggist), Sgt. Harold Mooney (the policeman), Mr. Krinkie (the newspaper editor), and Buzz (the local handyman), among others. Dennis also had a nemesis named Johnny Brady, whose father and Henry Mitchell also were sometimes at odds.
Second- and third-season episodes began to focus on Dennis at school learning to read, going to camp, playing baseball, being in scouting, and trying to help Mr. Wilson. Dennis was gradually maturing, and at times, Mr. Wilson is revealed to like Dennis deep down. In the fourth season, Dennis is no longer seen in his trademark overalls, and is instead wearing regular pants. Also, the famous striped shirt goes from a crew-neck to a "polo"-type shirt with a collar and buttons.
Death of Joseph Kearns
On February 17, 1962, after filming the show's 100th episode, Joseph Kearns died of a cerebral hemorrhage. In a 2010 interview, actress Gloria Henry revealed Kearns followed a strict six-week Metrecal diet that may have contributed to his death. The following two episodes were filmed without the character of Mr. Wilson. Gale Gordon joined the cast for the last six episodes of the season as Mr. Wilson's brother John. Gordon bore a closer resemblance to the comic strip's Mr. Wilson than Kearns did. It was explained that John was staying as a guest while George was settling an estate back east. Sylvia Field, who played Martha Wilson, was let go at the end of the season. In the fourth and final season, John Wilson purchased the house from his brother, although where George and Martha had moved was never explained. He was joined by his wife Eloise, played by Sara Seegar. Final references to George and Martha Wilson were made early in the fourth season, although they were not mentioned by name after the first episode. George Wilson was referred to as "the other Mr. Wilson" in the second episode, and John Wilson says in the seventh episode that he bought the house from his brother. After that, the original Wilsons were never mentioned again.
- Dennis Mitchell (Jay North) is the series protagonist (146 episodes, 1959–1963).
- Henry Mitchell (Herbert Anderson) is Dennis' father and Alice's husband (144 episodes, 1959–1963).
- Alice Mitchell (Gloria Henry) is Henry Mitchell's wife and Dennis's mother (145 episodes, (1959–1963)
- Mr. George Wilson (Joseph Kearns) is the Mitchells' neighbor; he is often exasperated with Dennis's antics, though is proud that Dennis considers him his best friend. George has a dog named Fremont. Kearns appeared in 101 episodes from 1959 to 1962; his last work was aired posthumously in the episode "The Man Next Door" on May 6, 1962.
- Mrs. Martha Wilson (Sylvia Field) is George Wilson's wife, a loving, grandmotherly type neighbor who enjoys Dennis's company. The Wilsons had no children. Martha Wilson was written out of the series after Joseph Kearns' death (90 episodes, 1959–62).
- Margaret Wade (Jeannie Russell) is a snooty but good girl with a crush on Dennis (38 episodes, 1959–1963).
- Tommy Anderson (Billy Booth) is Dennis's closest friend (111 episodes, 1959–1963).
- Mr. John Wilson (Gale Gordon) is George Wilson's brother. Gordon's first episode is entitled "John Wilson's Cushion", which aired on May 27, 1962. Gordon appeared in 43 episodes from 1962 to 1963.
- Eloise Wilson (Sara Seegar) is John Wilson's wife (36 episodes, 1962–1963).
Other recurring characters
- Seymour Williams (Robert John Pittman) is Dennis' friend (31 episodes, 1961–1963).
- Stewart (Ron Howard) is another of Dennis' friends (six episodes, 1959–1960). Howard left to join the cast of The Andy Griffith Show.
- The Bradys – Johnny was Dennis's nemesis, the neighborhood braggart with a better-than-you attitude – shown to everyone but his father, Charles – who annoys adults with the same arrogance. Johnny was played by Gregory Irvin; Laurence Haddon was cast as Charles Brady.
- Sergeant Theodore Mooney (George Cisar) is a policeman (31 episodes, 1960–1963). In some episodes Mooney's first name was Ralph.
- Mrs. Lucy Elkins (Irene Tedrow) is a Mitchell neighbor (26 episodes) and an avowed enemy of both George and John Wilson.
- Mr. Otis Quigley (Willard Waterman) is the grocer (14 episodes).
- Miss Esther Cathcart (Mary Wickes) is a spinster (10 episodes, 1959–1962) who chases every single man in sight.
- Mr. Krinkie (Charles Seel) is the newspaper editor (9 episodes, 1960–1963).
- Grandma Mitchell (Kathleen Mulqueen) is Henry's mother, who joined the cast for eight episodes in 1961 while Gloria Henry was on maternity leave.
- Joey McDonald (Gil Smith) is Dennis' friend (8 episodes, 1959–1960).
- Mrs. Schooner (Lillian Culver) is a local socialite, volunteer, and outdoor enthusiast (7 episodes, 1960–63).
- Mr. Lawrence Finch (Charles Lane) is the drugstore owner (6 episodes, 1960–1962).
- Mrs. Dorothy Holland (Helen Kleeb) is a Mitchell neighbor and Mrs. Elkins' friend. Kleeb appeared in five episodes from 1959 to 1962, three as Mrs. Holland.
- Mr. Merrivale (Will Wright) is a florist (four episodes, 1959–61) considered a shady businessman by most of the neighborhood.
- Uncle Ned Matthews (Edward Everett Horton) is George and John Wilson's uncle (three episodes, 1962–63).
- Opie Swanson (Dub Taylor) is an electrician (three episodes, 1960).
- Mr. Dorfman (Robert B. Williams) is a postman (1959–60).
- Mr. Hall (J. Edward McKinley) is Mr. Mitchell's boss.
- Foster A. Steward (Ned Wever) is the Chief of Police.
- Buzz (Chubby Johnson) is the neighborhood handyman (three episodes, 1961–1962).
- Mel Blanc, a Hollywood voice acting specialist, was cast as Leo Trinkle, the town dogcatcher, in the 1961 episode "Miss Cathcart's Friend".
- Spring Byington appeared as herself in the 1961 episode "Dennis's Birthday", with Vaughn Taylor also appearing in this segment.
- Elinor Donahue portrayed Georgiana Ballinger in the 1960 episode "Dennis and the Wedding". In the story line, Georgiana is the niece of George and Martha Wilson, and Dennis is selected as the ringbearer at her wedding. The cranky Mr. Wilson worries that Dennis could disrupt the whole ceremony. (Note: Despite two of Mr. Wilson's sisters appearing in first-season episodes, as well as references to Mrs. Wilson's mother and two sisters and the later existence of John Wilson, George says he and Martha "are the only family she (Georgiana) has left.") Georgiana was referenced later in the second season as being pregnant with her first child, but her character was not seen nor ever mentioned again for the rest of the series.
- Bob Dornan was cast as Lieutenant Alden in the 1962 episode "Dennis at Boot Camp". Roy Roberts played Captain Stone in the same segment.
- Bob Hastings appeared five times on the series, most notably as Coach Gilmore in the 1963 episode, "The Big Basketball Game".
- Cheryl Holdridge, a member of the Mickey Mouse Club, was cast as Helen Franklin in "Dennis's Lovesick Friend", the second episode without Joseph Kearns as Mr. Wilson. Instead, this segment features Edward Everett Horton as Uncle Ned Wilson.
- Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, appeared as himself in the episode "Dennis and the Dodger", the first episode without Joseph Kearns.
- John A. "Shorty" Powers, a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force known as the "Voice of the Astronauts", portrayed himself in the 1963 episode "Junior Astronaut".
Others appearing on the series include:
- Morris Ankrum
- John Astin
- Eleanor Audley
- Parley Baer
- Madge Blake
- Willis Bouchey
- Edgar Buchanan
- Frank Cady
- James T. Callahan
- Olive Carey
- Joe Conley
- Ellen Corby
- Lloyd Corrigan
- Cyril Delevanti
- Barry Gordon
- Harold Gould
- Don C. Harvey
- Jimmy Hawkins
- Jonathan Hole
- Hal Hopper
- Harvey Korman
- Forrest Lewis
- Tyler McVey
- Arthur Malet
- James Millhollin
- Stuart Nisbet
- Alice Pearce
- Maudie Prickett
- Stafford Repp
- Addison Richards
- Hal J. Smith
- Arthur Space
- Jean Stapleton
- Hope Summers
- Ray Teal
- Ernest Truex
- Lurene Tuttle
- Gregory Walcott
- Doodles Weaver
- Estelle Winwood
List of Dennis the Menace (1959 TV series) episodes
|1) 1959–60||# 16 (26.0)|
|2) 1960–61||# 11 (26.1)|
|3) 1961–62||# 17 (23.8)|
|4) 1962–63||Not In The Top 30|
By the end of the show's fourth season, Jay North was nearly 12 years old and was outgrowing the antics associated with his character. CBS cancelled Dennis the Menace in the spring of 1963.
In 1963, NBC began airing reruns of the series on Saturday mornings for two seasons – the show entered syndication in 1965. It has run consistently on local stations over subsequent years. On July 1, 1985, the Nickelodeon cable network began airing the series, and continued until October 22, 1994 after Nick Jr. It also aired on TV Land from 2002 to 2003. On January 3, 2011, Dennis the Menace began airing on Antenna TV.
The show was exported to the United Kingdom and shown on the ITV network, with 103 episodes airing in the London region between 1960 and 1966. To avoid confusion with the British comic character, the series was known in the UK as Just Dennis.
Dennis the Menace is currently available in its entirety on the Hulu and Peacock streaming services.
Dennis the Menace (1959 TV series) Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.