Dennis the Menace (1959 TV series)

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Dennis the Menace
Dennis Menace 1959 title.jpg
CBS promotional title card for Dennis the Menace
Genre Sitcom
Created by Based on the comic strip by Hank Ketcham
Starring Jay North
Herbert Anderson
Gloria Henry
Joseph Kearns
Gale Gordon
Sylvia Field
Theme music composer William Loose
John Seely
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 146 (List of episodes)
Production
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, for Screen Gems
Hank Ketcham Enterprises
Distributor Sony Pictures Television
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Picture format Black-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original run October 4, 1959 (1959-10-04) – July 7, 1963 (1963-07-07)

Dennis the Menace is an American sitcom based on the Hank Ketcham comic strip of the same name and preceded The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evenings on CBS from October 1959 to July 1963. The series stars 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, and Sylvia Field as George's wife, Martha Wilson.

Originally sponsored by Kellogg's cereals and Best Foods (Skippy Peanut Butter), the series was produced by Dariell Productions and Screen Gems.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

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 with his peace-and-quiet-loving neighbor, George Wilson, a retired salesman.

While the series was based on the Dennis the Menace comic strip, there are differences between the two. On the sitcom and in the comics, Dennis is basically a good well-intentioned boy who always was trying to help people, but wound up making situations worse - often at Mr. Wilson's expense. In early episodes of the first season, far more disasters happened as a result of his actions than in later episodes. The character of Dennis was slightly toned down by the sixth or seventh episode. Instead of Dennis' dog Ruff, there was a smaller terrier named Fremont which belonged to the Wilsons.

First season[edit]

The cast of Dennis the Menace; (clockwise from center) Jay North, Herbert Anderson, Gloria Henry, Sylvia Field and Joseph Kearns, 1960

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 late in 1958. In the pilot, Dennis was younger and his speech, the tone of his voice, and character had not been as developed as in episodes later in the 1959–1960 season. In the episode, Dennis indeed causes a lot of destruction such as burying a hose (installing an automatic sprinkler system), trying to repair a leg on the kitchen table and causing the whole table to collapse, almost knocking Mr. Wilson off the ladder but causing him to ruin his shoes as he steps in a can of paint, among other things. Dennis' father and mother 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 babysitter. Because none of the babysitters in the neighborhood would help out because of Dennis' mischief, the Mitchells find an older lady, Mrs. Porter (Madge Blake), who had never met Dennis. Dennis then switches places with Joey and sneaks out to the very same movie his parents are seeing. Joey stays home, while Mrs. Porter thinks he is Dennis. Meanwhile, Dennis causes havoc at the theater, even demanding that the projectionist to repeat a scene. His parents suspect that Dennis is there causing these problems and call Mrs. Porter at the house. Mrs. Porter assures them that Dennis has been well behaved. 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' toy gun (which in those days much more closely resembled a real gun). The final scene where Joey jumps into bed with Dennis was filmed in the summer of 1959 in order 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," (where Margaret made her debut, this episode was made prior to "The Sign Post" but aired after) and "Dennis Becomes a Babysitter" (in which Margaret also appears). At that point, CBS consented to take the program to run at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday evenings after Lassie. After viewing these episodes, CBS determined that Dennis' antics had to be toned down because of fear that his actions would encourage children watching the show to imitate Dennis.

Several weeks before the series was to debut, the episode "The Sign Post" was made in which Tommy made his debut. Margaret, who appeared in two episodes that were made before but aired after also 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. Joey was gradually phased out in season one. Dennis' friend Stewart appeared in only a few episodes in the first season and was played by Ron Howard (who would soon after become Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show).

Later seasons[edit]

Jay North as Dennis and Jeannie Russell as Margaret Wade, 1963. In this final fourth season, Dennis no longer wears his trademark overalls.

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. Elkins (a widowed neighbor and the town gossip), Mrs. Holland (another widow that aired on a recurring basis in season one only), Miss Cathcart (a lonely spinster), Mr. Quigley (the grocer), Opie Swanson (the TV/appliance store owner), Mr. Finch (the druggist), Sgt. 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 it is revealed that Mr. Wilson does 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 Kerns[edit]

Jay North as Dennis and Gale Gordon as John Wilson, 1962

On February 17, 1962, after filming the show's one hundredth 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.[2] 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 it was never explained to where George and Martha had moved. 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 he bought the house from his brother in the seventh episode. After that the original Wilsons were never mentioned again.

Cast[edit]

Main characters[edit]

  • Dennis Mitchell (Jay North) – series protagonist (146 episodes, 1959-1963).
  • Henry Mitchell (Herbert Anderson) – father to Dennis and Alice's husband (144 episodes, 1959-1963).
  • Alice Mitchell (Gloria Henry) – Henry Mitchell's wife and Dennis's mother (145 episodes, (1959-1963).
  • Mr. George Wilson (Joseph Kearns) – the Mitchells' neighbor, 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) – George Wilson's wife, a loving, grandmotherly-type neighbor that enjoys Dennis' company. The Wilsons had no children. Martha Wilson was written out of the series after Joseph Kearns' death (90 episodes, 1959-62).
  • Tommy Anderson (Billy Booth) – Dennis' closest friend (111 episodes, 1959–1963).
  • Margaret Wade (Jeannie Russell) – a snooty, but good girl with a crush on Dennis, (38 episodes, 1959-1963).
  • Mr. John Wilson (Gale Gordon) – 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) – John Wilson's wife (36 episodes, 1962–1963).

Recurring characters[edit]

  • Joey McDonald (Gil Smith) – Dennis's friend (8 episodes, 1959–1960).
  • Seymour Williams (Robert John Pittman) – Dennis's friend (31 episodes, 1961–1963).
  • Stewart (Ron Howard) - Another of Dennis's friends, six episodes from 1959 to 1960 before he joined 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) – Policeman, 31 episodes. Gale Gordon took the character name and added the middle initial "J" to become Theodore J. Mooney, the tough-minded banker on Lucille Ball's subsequent The Lucy Show. Mooney's first name also was Harold and Ralph in various episodes.
  • Mrs. Lucy Elkins (Irene Tedrow) – a Mitchell neighbor, 26 episodes.
  • Mr. Otis Quigley (Willard Waterman) – Grocer (14 episodes, 1959-1963).
  • Miss Esther Cathcart (Mary Wickes) – Spinster (10 episodes, 1959-1962).
  • Mr. Lawrence Finch (Charles Lane) – Drugstore owner, six episodes from 1960 to 1962; subsequently on The Lucy Show as a banker.
  • Mr. Krinkie (Charles Seel) - Newspaper editor (9 episodes, 1960-1963).
  • Opie Swanson (Dub Taylor) - Electrician (3 episodes, 1960).
  • Mrs. Holland (Helen Kleeb) - a Mitchell neighbor and Mrs. Elkins' friend, five episodes from 1959 to 1962, three as Mrs. Holland.
  • Mr. Dorfman (Robert B Williams) - Postman.
  • Mr. Hall (J. Edward McKinley) - Mr. Mitchell's boss.
  • Mrs. Purcell (Eve McVeagh) - a Mitchell neighbor.
  • Mrs. Toland (Amy Douglass) - Mr. Wilson's neighbor.
  • Foster A Steward (Ned Wever) - Chief of Police.
  • Mrs. Schooner (Lillian Culver) - Cast in seven episodes, 1959-1963.
  • Mrs. Armstrong (Regina Gleason) - Mrs. Mitchell's friend.
  • Mr. Merrivale (Will Wright) - Florist, 4 episodes
  • Grandma Mitchell (Kathleen Mulqueen) - Cast in eight episodes in 1961 while Gloria Henry was on maternity leave
  • Uncle Ned (Edward Everett Horton) - George and John Wilson's uncle, three episodes.
  • Buzz (Chubby Johnson) - The salvage man, appeared in the episodes three episodes from 1961 to 1962.[3]

Guest stars[edit]

  • Mel Blanc, a Hollywood voice acting specialist, was cast as Leo Trinkle, the town dogcatcher, in the 1961 episode "Miss Cathcart's Friend".[4]
  • Elinor Donahue portrayed Georgiana Balanger 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 sister and the later existence of John Wilson, George says he and Martha "are the only family she (Georgiana) has left."[6]
  • Bob Dornan was cast as Lieutenant Alden in the 1962 episode "Dennis at Boot Camp". Roy Roberts played Captain Stone in the same segment.[7]


  • Bob Hastings appeared five times on the series, most notably as Coach Gilmore in the 1963 episode, "The Big Basketball Game".[8]
  • Cheryl Holdridge, an original member of the Mickey Mouse Club, was cast as Helen Franklin in "Dennis' Lovesick Friend", the second episode without Joseph Kearns as Mr. Wilson. Instead, this segment features Edward Everett Horton as Uncle Ned Wilson.[9]

Others appearing on the series include:

Episodes[edit]

Production notes[edit]

The fictional "Blondie Street" located at Columbia Ranch in Burbank, California (now the Warner Ranch) was the backdrop for the series.

The Mitchells' house was constructed between 1934 and 1935 for the movie Party Wire. It was later moved and became well known as the home of the Stone family on The Donna Reed Show in 1958, before becoming the home of the Mitchell family in 1959.

The Wilsons' house was constructed between 1936 and 1937 for the Blondie film series. This structure, after some transformation, became well known as the home of the Andersons in Father Knows Best before becoming the home of the Wilsons, and later, the home of Major Nelson and Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie. The house can also be seen in episodes of Bewitched and The Partridge Family.

The Partridge Family house, located on the same street, was used as the home of Mrs. Elkins (a Mitchell neighbor). It can be seen in the episode "The Man Next Door" (Season 3 Episode 30) in which Mr. Wilson and Dennis believe there is a jewel thief living next door and climb into a basement window of the home. It was also used as Miss Cathcart's house in the episode "Miss Cathcart's Sunsuit" (Season 1 Episode 32). The corner church, together with The Partridge Family house burned down in a fire in August 1970. Both were rebuilt to specification, albeit the church was moved further back and in a different configuration and smaller. Prior to The Partridge Family the house facade was used by the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz on Bewitched. These days all of these houses still exist at the Warner Ranch and are used primarily as storage space and production offices across from the suburban park it faces.

The garage of the well-known address, 1164 Morning Glory Circle, used as the Bewitched house, can also be seen in several episodes.

Ratings[edit]

Ratings
Season Rank (Rating)
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

Cancellation[edit]

By the show's fourth season, Jay North was 11 years old and was outgrowing the antics associated with his character. CBS canceled Dennis the Menace in the spring of 1963.

Syndication[edit]

In 1961, NBC began airing reruns of the series in daytime.[1] The show continued in reruns on NBC on Saturday mornings from 1963 to 1965 and the show was syndicated in that same year. It has run consistently on local stations over subsequent years. On July 1, 1985,[12] the Nickelodeon cable network began airing the series, and continued until October 21, 1994.[13] 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.

DVD releases[edit]

Shout! Factory (under license from Sony Pictures) has released all four seasons on DVD in Region 1. On August 7, 2012, Shout! Factory released a 20 episode best-of set entitled Dennis the Menace- 20 Timeless Episodes.

DVD Name Episodes Release Date
Season One 32 March 29, 2011
Season Two 38 July 26, 2011
Season Three 38 October 25, 2011
Season Four 38 January 10, 2012

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ a b [The New York Times Encyclopedia of Television by Les Brown (Times Books, a division of Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Company, Inc., 1977), ISBN 0-8129-0721-3, p. 116-117]
  2. ^ http://cobwebtv.blogspot.com/2011/10/great-scott.html
  3. ^ "Chubby Johnson". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  4. ^ ""Miss Cathcart's Friend", January 22, 1961". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  5. ^ ""Dennis' Birthday", February 19, 1961". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  6. ^ ""Dennis and the Wedding", October 9, 1960". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  7. ^ ""Dennis at Boot Camp", November 25, 1962". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  8. ^ ""The Big Basketball Game", February 24, 1963". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  9. ^ ""Dennis' Lovesick Friend", May 20, 1962". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  10. ^ ""Dennis and the Dodger", May 13, 1962". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  11. ^ ""Dennis and the Astronaut", January 13, 1963". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  12. ^ The Daily Intelligencer – July 1, 1985
  13. ^ The Intelligencer – October 21, 1994

External links[edit]