Dennis the Menace was the original mischievous television kid. Armed with a cowlick and a mischievous grin, he wreaked comedic havoc on CBS for four years.
Invented by cartoonist Hank Ketchum and based on his own son, Dennis the Menace was originally the star of his very own comic strip (where he still wreaks mischief today). In 1959, Dennis was brought to television in the form of child actor Jay North. Dennis was an energetic, enthusiastic kid who lived in the suburb of Hilldale. He wanted nothing more to be helpful to his family and especially his persnickety neighbor, Mr. Wilson.
The problem was, Dennis didn’t wait to for an opportunity to be helpful. He took the initiative and implemented his own ideas about being helpful. Every week, Dennis would unintentionally get himself in trouble, usually with the short-tempered Mr. Wilson, by doing something like contributing Mr. Wilson rare coin collection as a donation to the March of Dimes. Each episode would usually end with Dennis getting a lecture from his parents and realizing the error of his ways.
The lectures didn’t stick. By the next week, Dennis would be back in hot water after doing something like digging up Mr. Wilson’s freshly-planted tulips to plant potatoes.
The cast remained pretty consistent throughout the show’s run except for the character of Mr. Wilson. Joseph Kearns, the original Mr. Wilson, died midway through the 1961-62 season. He was replaced with Mr. Wilson’s brother, John, who neatly filled the cranky man’s shoes. The show continued with the new Mr. Wilson until September of 1963, when it went into two years of reruns on Saturday mornings.
Dennis the Menace continues to live on today through syndication. People still love the show because it’s like watching a secret childhood fantasy brought to life. You knew when you sat down to watch the show that Dennis would get away with murder (figuratively, of course—he wasn’t that much of a menace), always getting off the hook with little more than a lecture because his heart was in the right place. At the same time, he’d manage to show the adults they weren’t always right just because they were older. In this way, the show is an enduring tribute to the free-thinking kid in us all.
Known in the UK as just Dennis to avoid confusion with the Beano comic character of the same name. A Two hour TV movie appeared in 1987 starring Victor Di Mattia as Dennis.
USA / CBS – Columbia Pictures Television – Screen Gems – DIC / 146×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 4 October 1959 – 22 September 1963
JAY NORTH as Dennis Mitchell
HERBERT ANDERSON as Henry Mitchell
GLORIA HENRY as Alice Mitchell
JOSEPH KEARNS as George Wilson
SYLVIA FIELD as Martha Wilson
MARY WICKES as Esther Cathcart (1959-1961)
GALE GORDON as John Wilson (1962-1963)