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
It was produced by Dariell Productions and Screen Gems.
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.
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, so she does not appear at all in the TV show; and Joey was played by Gil Smith in only 8 early episodes in the first season. Instead of Dennis' big pooch Ruff, there was a smaller terrier breed named Fremont, who belonged to The Wilsons.
On the sitcom, Dennis was basically a good boy who always was trying to help people but wound up making situations worse (most often at Mr. Wilson's expense). On early episodes in 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 6th or 7th episode.
The pilot episode was made late in 1958 and was entitled 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 195960 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 babysit for Dennis 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. Margaret made her first appearance on "Open House". Actor Billy Booth makes his first appearance on "Dennis Runs Away", but not yet as Tommy Anderson.
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. 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. As a result, after the pilot aired as the first episode, "The Sign Post" aired as a second episode. The "Fishing Trip" was the third episode to air but the second one made. 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.
Dennis and Mr. Wilson had a love/hate relationship. Dennis was always aggravating Mr. Wilson but usually did not realize 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 sort of way) and tried to make the situation better. 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.
"Two Mr. Wilsons"
Toward the end of filming the third season, in March 1962, Joseph Kearns died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The next couple of episodes did not have Mr. Wilson appearing. But for the last half-dozen episodes of that season, Gale Gordon joined the cast as Mr. Wilson's brother John. (Physically, John Wilson bore a closer resemblance to the comic strip's Mr. Wilson than George did.) He was staying as a guest of Mrs. Wilson while Mr. Wilson was away. Sylvia Field, who played Mrs. Wilson, left the series at the end of the year. Her absence was explained by her and her husband embarking on a cruise trip, leaving their home in the care of her in-laws. The following year, John Wilson continued on, joined by his wife Eloise, played by Sara Seegar, as if he had always been the sole Mr. Wilson. Except for Dennis mentioning "the other Mr. Wilson" when he asked John Wilson if he could mow his lawn in the second episode of the fourth season, no mention was made of the original Wilsons ever again.
All four seasons of Dennis The Menace featured a wide variety of background music scoring from John Seely and Associates. The tunes used were for the most part the same ones used for other sitcoms like Donna Reed, Ozzie & Harriet, Patty Duke, and others. Also, children's shows Davey and Goliath and Gumby featured much of this background music as well as some early Hanna Barbera cartoons.
Jay North was getting too big and too old to continue the role of Dennis, and now at age 11, too old for the childlike antics that made his character into a household name. It was believed that the show had run its course once Joseph Kearns died, but it ran one more season. Finally, the show was canceled in the spring of 1963.
In 1961, NBC began carrying reruns in daytime. 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 the years. On July 1, 1985, the Nickelodeon cable network began airing the series almost non-stop, and continued until October 21, 1994. It also aired on TV Land in the late 1990s and weekly for most of 2003.
The show was imported 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 of Dennis the Menace of the same name, the series was known in the UK as Just Dennis.
Dennis Mitchell, a well-meaning but trouble-prone boy. Played by Jay North
Henry Mitchell, father to Dennis and Alice's husband. Played by Herbert Anderson
Alice Mitchell, Henry Mitchell's wife and Dennis's mother. Played by Gloria Henry
Mr. George Wilson, 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. (19591962). Played by Joseph Kearns
Mrs. Martha Wilson, a loving, grandmotherly type who enjoys Dennis's company. (19591962). Played by Sylvia Field
Joey McDonald, Dennis's friend. (19591960). Played by Gil Smith
Tommy Anderson, Dennis's closest (school) friend. (19591963). Played by Billy Booth
Margaret Wade, a good girl in the neighborhood with a crush on Dennis. Played by Jeannie Russell
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, while Larry Haddon played Charles.
Mr. John Wilson, George Wilson's brother. (19621963). Played by Gale Gordon
Mrs. Eloise Wilson, John Wilson's wife. (19621963). Played by Sara Seegar