Dennis the Menace (1959 TV series)

Dennis the Menace (1959 TV series)
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
Language(s) English
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, for Screen Gems
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 a television series based on the Hank Ketcham comic strip of the same name. The show, originally sponsored by Kellogg's cereals and Best Foods (Skippy Peanut Butter), aired from 1959 to 1963 on CBS and 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 John Wilson, and Sylvia Field as Martha Wilson. It was produced by Dariell Productions and Screen Gems.[1]


Plot summary

The show follows the lives of the Mitchell family – Henry, Alice, and their only child, Dennis. Dennis is an energetic, well meaning, but trouble prone boy and sometimes a mischievous child. He often tangles with peace-and-quiet-loving neighbor, George Wilson.


Main characters

  • Dennis Mitchell (Jay North) – a well-meaning but trouble-prone boy.
  • Henry Mitchell (Herbert Anderson) – father to Dennis, and Alice's husband.
  • Alice Mitchell (Gloria Henry) – Henry Mitchell's wife and Dennis's mother.
  • Mr. George Wilson (Joseph Kearns) – the Mitchell's neighbor, often exasperated with Dennis's antics, though is proud that Dennis considers him his best friend. George has a dog named Fremont. (1959–1962).
  • Mrs. Martha Wilson (Sylvia Field) – George Wilson's wife who's a loving, grandmotherly-type neighbor that enjoys Dennis's company (1959–1962).
  • Joey McDonald (Gil Smith) – Dennis's friend (1959–1960).
  • Tommy Anderson (Billy Booth) – Dennis's closest (school) friend (1959–1963).
  • Margaret Wade (Jeannie Russell) – a good girl in the neighborhood with a crush on Dennis.
  • The Bradys – Johnny was Dennis' 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, while Larry Haddon played Charles.
  • Mr. John Wilson (Gale Gordon) – George Wilson's brother (1962–1963).
  • Mrs. Eloise Wilson (Sara Seegar) – John Wilson's wife (1962–1963).
  • Stewart - another of Dennis' friends (Ron Howard).

Recurring characters

  • Seymour Williams (Robert John Pittman) – Dennis' friend. (1961–1963)
  • Sergeant Theodore Mooney (George Cisar) – a policeman.
  • Mrs. Elkins (Irene Tedrow) – a Mitchell's neighbor.
  • Mr. Quigley (Willard Waterman) – a grocer.
  • Miss Esther Cathcart (Mary Wickes) – a spinster.
  • Mr. Finch (Charles Lane) – a drugstore owner.
  • Mr. Krinkie (Charles Seel) - a newspaper editor.
  • Opie Swanson (Dub Taylor) - an electrician.
  • Mrs. Holland (Helen Kleeb) - a Mitchell neighbor and Mrs. Elkins's friend.
  • Mr. Dorfman (Robert B Williams) - the postman.
  • Mr. Hall (J. Edward McKinley) - the Mr. Mitchell's boss.
  • Ed (Artur Hanson) and Catherine Driscoll (June Dayton) and their son Terry - a Mitchell's neighbors.
  • Mrs. Toland (Amy Douglass) - a Mr. Wilson's neighbor.
  • Foster A Steward (Ned Wever) - a chief officer.
  • Mrs. Armstrong (Regina Gleason) - a Mrs Mitchell's friend.
  • Mr. Kim (Cyril Delevanti) - Kim's Gift Shop owner.

Differences between the comic strip and the sitcom

Dennis' best friend, Tommy Anderson, was played by Billy Booth, and Jeannie Russell was chosen at the suggestion of Jay North to play his nemesis, Margaret Wade. The comic strip's recurring character Gina would not be introduced into the strip until several years after the TV series' production, and does not appear in the TV show. Joey was played by Gil Smith in 8 episodes in the first season. Instead of Dennis' dog Ruff, there was a smaller terrier named Fremont, belonging to the Wilsons.

On the sitcom and in the comics, Dennis was 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). On early episodes in the first season of the TV series, 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.

First season

The pilot episode was filmed late in 1958 and was titled Dennis Goes To The Movies. Dennis was clearly younger, and his speech, the tone of his voice, and his character had obviously not been as developed as in episodes later in the 1959–1960 season. On this 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 his life") and Dennis would be getting a babysitter. The problem is none of the babysitters in the area would help out because of his mischief. They manage to find an elderly lady, Mrs. Porter, 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 and pretends he is Dennis. Dennis, meanwhile, causes havoc at the theatre, even demanding the projectionist to repeat a scene. His parents suspect that Dennis is there causing these problems, so they call Mrs. Porter at the house, and she assures then that Dennis is so well behaved. Dennis' parents say, "Wow, it sounds like she is talking about some other kid." Little did the parents know they were right. Dennis indeed beats the parents home and is in bed by the time they return, but not before making noises causing Mr. Wilson to awaken and go outside to see what is wrong and then be arrested for armed robbery when he is found with Dennis' toy gun (which in those days much more closely resembled a real gun).

In early 1959, several other episodes are made including "The Fishing Trip," "Dennis Gets A Duck," "Dennis Runs Away," "The Cowboy," "Open House," and "Dennis Becomes a Babysitter." 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 they wanted Dennis toned down because of fear that his actions would encourage children watching to try some of these things.

Several weeks before the series was to debut, the episode "The Sign Post" was made in which Tommy made his debut and Margaret also appeared along with Joey. On this episode, Dennis puts back a street sign that a motorist knocked down, but the sign had the streets in reverse. As a result, builders mistakenly begin building a swimming pool at Mr. Wilson's house causing havoc. On this episode, Dennis is very much toned down from the pilot episode. For that reason, after the pilot aired as the first episode, "The Sign Post" and "Fishing Trip" were aired as the next two episodes. After that, newly made episodes aired mixed in with the initial batch made earlier in 1959. Joey is gradually phased out and not a part of the second season.

Jay North appeared as Dennis Mitchell in one 1960 episode of The Donna Reed Show, "Donna Decorates." Dennis, apparently a neighbor of Donna Stone, visits Donna while she is decorating her house and causes mayhem with his usual antics.

Although Dennis' friend Stewart only appeared in a few episodes, the child actor who played him just so happened to be Ron Howard of The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days fame.

Later seasons

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 included Mrs. Elkins (a widowed neighbor), Miss Cathcart (a lonely spinster), Mr. Quigley (a grocer), Opie Swanson (a TV/appliance store owner), Mr. Finch (a druggist), and Sgt. Mooney (a policeman) 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 of course 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 coveralls 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.

The two Mr. Wilsons

In March 1962, toward the end of filming the third season, Joseph Kearns died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Several subsequent episodes were filmed without the character of Mr. Wilson. Gale Gordon joined the cast for the last few 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. John was staying as a guest while George was away. Sylvia Field, who played Martha Wilson, left the series at the end of the season. It was explained that she and George were embarking on an extended trip, leaving their home in the care of John. The following season, John Wilson was joined by his wife Eloise, played by Sara Seegar. Other than Dennis mentioning "the other Mr. Wilson" once in the second episode of the final season, and Mr Wilson mentioning that he bought the house from his brother in Season 4 Episode 1 "The Chinese Girl", and Dennis saying (after Mr Wilson declined Dennis' offer to cut his grass) "The other Mr. Wilson let me cut it sometimes" and Mr. Wilson replying "Well I own the house now and I don't" before his wife stops him in Season 4 Episode 2 "You go your way", no mention was ever made of the original Wilsons again.



All four seasons of Dennis The Menace featured a wide variety of background music scoring from John Seely and Associates.[citation needed] The tunes used were, for the most part, the same ones used for other sitcoms like Donna Reed, Ozzie & Harriet, Patty Duke.[citation needed] Also, children's shows Davey and Goliath and Gumby featured much of this background music as well as some early Hanna Barbera cartoons.[citation needed]


The fictional "Blondie Street" located at Columbia Ranch in Burbank, California 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 Anderson’s 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 1970. Both were rebuild, albeit that the church was moved further back and in a different configuration and smaller.

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

Nielsen ratings

Dennis the Menace rated #11 in season 2, and #17 during season 3.

Cancellation and syndication

With Jay North at age 11 outgrowing the antics associated with his character, the show was canceled in the spring of 1963.

In 1961, NBC began carrying reruns in daytime.[1] The show continued in reruns on NBC on Saturday mornings from 1963 to 1965 and the show was syndicated in 1965. It has run consistently on local stations over subsequent years. On July 1, 1985,[2] the Nickelodeon cable network began airing the series, and continued until October 21, 1994.[3] 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

Shout! Factory (under license from Sony Pictures) has released the first three seasons on DVD in Region 1. The fourth and final season will be released on January 10, 2012.[4]

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


  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. ^ The Daily Intelligencer – July 1, 1985
  3. ^ The Intelligencer – October 21, 1994
  4. ^

External links

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