Joseph Kearns

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Joseph Kearns
Veteran character actor Joseph Kearns.jpg
Born (1907-02-12)February 12, 1907
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Died February 17, 1962(1962-02-17) (aged 55)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Cerebral hemorrhage
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills
Alma mater University of Utah
Occupation Actor
Years active 1930s–1962

Joseph Sherrard Kearns[1] (February 12, 1907 – February 17, 1962) was an American actor, who is best remembered for his role as George Wilson ("Mr. Wilson") in the CBS television series Dennis the Menace from 1959 until his death in 1962, and for providing the voice of the Doorknob in the animated Disney film, Alice in Wonderland.

Early life[edit]

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kearns moved with his family to California when he was very young. His mother was Cordelia M. Kearns (née Peterson; 1877–1962), a concert pianist, from whom Kearns derived his love of music.[1] His acting career began in 1916 when he joined 'The Rising Generation", a vaudeville troupe of eleven children that toured for 14 months.[1] He briefly tried his hand at wool buying and worked for his father for a year. Kearns traveled the West as a representative of Howell, Jones and Donnell of Boston. His wool-buying career came to an abrupt end when Kearns purchased five boxcars full of black wool from a breed called Karakul for $8,000. The problem was that black wool could not be dyed and no one knew how to use it in those days. After this fiasco, Kearns gladly gave up the wool business and pursued a show business career.[1]



Kearns joined the staff of radio station KSL in Salt Lake City in 1930 remaining there until 1936 when he moved to Los Angeles. Kearns began his acting career in radio in the 1930s (playing the Crazyquilt Dragon in the serial The Cinnamon Bear), becoming active during the 1940s, with appearances on the shows The Adventures of Sam Spade, Burns and Allen, The Whistler, and dozens of other shows. On Suspense, he was almost a mainstay, heard regularly as the host "The Man in Black" in the early years, announcing many episodes in the later run, and playing supporting and occasional lead roles in hundreds of shows throughout the series' tenure in Hollywood, from judges to kindly old-timers to cowards.[citation needed]He also appeared on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, playing various different characters including Professor Moriarty and even Dr. Watson.[2]

Kearns played Ed, the security guard for Jack Benny's underground money vault, on The Jack Benny Program. The 'running gag' was that Benny had kept Ed on duty at the vault's door so long that the guard was not conversant with current events. When Benny informed him that "The War (World War II) had ended," Ed asked whether the "North" or the "South" had won, assuming that the American Civil War was the war Benny referred to.[citation needed] He played numerous parts on the Benny show, including an IRS Agent. ('NO ONE yells at a tax collector, Mr. Benny!") He appeared in regular roles on The Mel Blanc Show (as the cantankerous father of Mel's on-air girl friend, Betty, played by Mary Jane Croft) and The Harold Peary Show as Old Doc Yak-Yak. He also played numerous comedic parts on Judy Canova's radio show, including her "dumb boyfriend", Lukey.[3]

Film career[edit]

Kearns made his film debut in Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951). He was the voice of the Doorknob in Disney's animated film, Alice in Wonderland (1951). Kearns appeared in other movies, making his final film appearance as the crime photographer in Anatomy of a Murder (1959).[3]


Joseph Kearns (right) with the cast of Dennis the Menace (1960)

On television, Kearns reprised his radio roles on The Jack Benny Program and also appeared with Eve Arden and Richard Crenna in Our Miss Brooks (1953–55), first as Assistant Superintendent Michaels and later (in eight episodes) as Superintendent Stone, a role that he had played on radio.[3]

He appeared on Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, I Love Lucy, My Little Margie, Perry Mason, I Married Joan, December Bride, It's a Great Life, Angel, Gunsmoke, and General Electric Theater. Kearns played Fred on Professional Father. In 1959 Kearns appeared as criminologist Edward Langley in the Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Perjured Parrot".[3]

Dennis the Menace[edit]

Kearns' final role was as George Wilson, the grouchy, cantankerous neighbor in CBS's Dennis the Menace based on the comic strip by Hank Ketcham. After his death, Kearns was replaced in the cast by Gale Gordon, who played George Wilson's brother John. Kearns and Gordon had worked together prior to Dennis the Menace, on the old radio show The Cinnamon Bear.[3]

In the last episode that aired before Kearns' death, episode 89 entitled "Where There's a Will", the story dealt with Mr. Wilson making out a will and explaining that Dennis would inherit his gold watch when he dies. The last episode Kearns filmed was titled "The Man Next Door", episode 100, and shown on May 6, 1962. Sylvia Field as George's wife, Martha, remained for a few more broadcasts, with John Wilson appearing in episode 103, "John Wilson's Cushion", which aired on May 27, 1962. There were references to George being 'back east' in subsequent shows. While Kearns was still filming episodes, the show introduced Edward Everett Horton as George's Uncle Ned, beginning with episode 90. Horton subsequently appeared twice more. In season four, Field was replaced in the cast by Sara Seegar, playing John Wilson's wife, Eloise.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Kearns never married nor had any children. Describing himself as a night owl who hated to get up early in the morning, Kearns enjoyed cooking, reading novels, writing, traveling, going to the movies, and playing cards in his spare time. He was a member of the exclusive Societe des Gentilhommes Chefs de Cuisine, a club for the gentlemen chefs. The members traded original recipes with other club members. Kearns also wrote plays and scripts for his various radio shows. His favorite hobby was playing the organ. Kearns, who was musically trained by his mother, had played the pipe organ for a Los Angeles theatre in the 1930s. Kearns purchased a Hammond organ and installed it in a studio apartment he designed and built in the 1940s.[4] He later purchased a larger 26 rank Wurlizter organ that had been designed for Warner Brothers in 1929. He then designed and built a soundproof 2-1/2 story home around the organ. Kearns delighted in playing the organ for his guests.[1]


Kearns suffered a cerebral hemorrhage[5] on February 11, 1962, during the third season of Dennis the Menace. He was hospitalized but never regained consciousness and died on February 17, 1962, five days after having turned 55.

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Menaced by Dennis", TV Guide (om the July 15–21, 1961_,; retrieved September 28, 2011.
  2. ^ Gordon, Shirley (June 3, 1945). "Microphones Are His Meat". Radio Life. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Joseph Kearns at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Buchanan, Joan (March 23, 1947). "Kearns Carries On". Radio Life. 
  5. ^ "New menace for Dennis". Broadcasting. February 26, 1962. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 

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