Jay North started his show business career in commercials. Best known for his TV series, Dennis the Menace (1959-63). He was reportedly chosen personally by creator Hank Ketcham himself to play Dennis in the TV series. Jay appeared in some 146 episodes of "Dennis."Incredibly, even though he began the series when he was about 6 years old, I never once saw him in shorts.
Jay landed the Dennis part when he was 7 years old. One fellow child star says that Jay could not be more venomous if he was raised by snakes, and to hear him tell it he was. Jay says now that his years as Dennis were a nightmare of loneliness and "physical and emotional abuse" from his aunt and uncle, who were his legal guardians. His aunt kept him from contact with other kids his age and claims she often beat him when he muffed a line. He took to drawing horrible pictures on the backs of his scripts, people on fire, people being hung, and dismembered. He told one journalist that "Dennis the Menace" was a piece of garbage. Through it all, he was very popular. He had many guest roles in major television shows. He also appeared in many variety Shows: George Goble, Milton Berle, Dinah Shore, Eddie Fisher, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. His film T.V. shows were: Wanted Dead or Alive, Rescue Eight, Robert Taylor's Detectives, Desilu Playhouse, 77 Sunset Strip, Sugarfoot Family Films, Religious Programs, General Hospital, and Scout's Honor (T.V. movie). The flms were: The Big Operator, The Miracle of the Hills, Pepe, Zebra in the Kitchen, Maya, and The Teacher. Jay never made any really good films. He was never one of the more effective child stars. He had blond hair and was a very effective Dennis in his TV series. He also starred in a short-lived TV series spun off from the movie, "Maya" (1967-68). Unfortunately it was a poorly done show and at any rate Jay was growing up. Interestingly he was almost always outfitted in Indian-style shorts. Following the failure of the TV spin off, he was never again able to land an important role. He had trouble adjusting after his child star faded. He says, "I went from being a huge star to being a has-been at age 11. Nobody wanted me for anything because I was so heavily identified with "Dennis the Menace." He faced all sorts of problems adjusting. He served in the Navy. I saw him on a 1994 TV show and he seems to have conquered his "personal daemons". Like many of us in our middle ages, Jay has gained quite a bit of weight.
Jay North was born in Hollywood (1951-52). Sources vary as to his age. We have only limited information about Jay's childhood, but it apparently was not a very happy one. Jay was the only child of Jay and Dorothy North. His father was an alcoholic, and the marriage was unhappy. When he was 4 years old, his parents separated. Jay never saw his father again. His mother was left to raise Jat on his own. Located in Hollywood, she found work as the secretary to the West Coast director of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). This would provide an in to the indudtry. Jay like most American kids became adicted to television from an early age. His mother used her connections at AFTRA to engineer an appearance on his favorite television program, local Los Angeles children's show 'Cartoon Express', hosted by 'Engineer Bill. It seems to have been more to please Jay than any desire on his mother's part for a showbiz career. Jay of course was delighted. It also changed his life.
Prominent Hollywood talent agent Hazel MacMillan happemed to ctch the appearance. She was immediatly impressed with North's photogenic looks and contacted his mother the next day, offering to represent him. Mrs. North knew about the sad experiences of troubled former child stars. She had reservations but eventually decided to see wht happened. [Minton] At first only modeling and minor gigs resulted, but then Dennis landed the 'Dennis' role. The problem was that Mrs. North did not want to quit her job for what might be a short-lived TV career. Thus Dennis was put in the hands of his aunt and uncle during the long shooting sessions.
Mrs. North's sister Marie Hopper and brother-in-law Hal Hopper became Jay's on-set guardian. Jay never mentioned it to his mother and apparently no one on the set was aware of it, evem the other children, but years later, Jay reported that they abused Dennis emotionally and physically. His aunt in particularly came down hard on him when he made mistkes on set and flubbed his lines.
They were strict taskmasters and stern disciplinarians in contrast to his mother's more empetheic approach. His aunt and uncle refused to allow him to socialize with other cast members. He thus was never around children his own age. The whole 'Dennis' experience proved to be a very unhappy episode in his life. I watched the show at the time and never had any idea that he was so unhappy.
We have very little information at this time about how Jay dressed as a boy. Like many child actors, most of the vailable information is about their show business career. Most of the images we have are from movies and TV shows. We note one photograph of Jay wearing a sports jacket with short pants (figure 1). We don't think it is from a theatrical program. Jay looks about 9-10 years old her which means the photograph was taken about 1960. A reader writes, "I find it interesting that Jay North, who appears older than Jon Provost star is wearing short pants with a jacket (which makes him look younger) and the other child star wears long trousers. In the TV show "Dennis the Menace", I do not ever remember Jay North wearing anything but bibbed front overalls." That was basically correct, although there is one episode in which Dennis, Joey, and Mr. Wilson appear in short pants school uniforms. Here though I do not think this is a production scene, the boys appear to be wearing their own clothes. Unfortuntlely we have no more information on how Jay dressed when not costumed for his movie or TV shows.
Jay North started his show business career in commercials and appeared in mny bit parts before becoming a child star. He is of course best known for his TV apparances as Dennis the Menace. I never thought he was a particulrly good actor, his performancs seemed more coached than natural. His greatest asset was his photogenic looks. But this mzy be just myy opinion. Other readers may see his performances differently. It is undebiable, however, thatJay and 'Dennis th Menace' were a big hit and both became very popular.
Jay stared as Dennis the Menace from 1959-63. He was reportedly chosen personally by creator Hank Ketcham himself to play Dennis in the TV series. Jay appeared in some 146 episodes of "Dennis." Incredibly, even though he began the series when he was about 6 years old, I only once saw him costumed in short pants. This was contrary to the Dennis character as the cartoonist often drew him wearing shorts, especially when his mother dresses him up for church and other special occasions. There was one imaginative scene where Mr. Wilson and a class of kids were in black suits and knee socks. Jay landed the Dennis part when he was 7 years old. Jay had brown hair that they bleached for the show.
Jay also starred in a short-lived TV series spun off from the movie, Maya (1967-68). He was almost always outfitted in Indian-style shorts. Jay was by then a teenager and did not prove as ppular as he was in his Dennis role.
Although best known for his Dennis role and TV appearances, he also appeared in several movies. The flms were: The Big Operator, The Miracle of the Hills, Pepe, Zebra in the Kitchen (1965), Maya (1966), and The Teacher. Jay's films were generally mediocre. His best film was probably Maya whch was set in India. He played an American boy lost in India. Maya was the elephant.
Jay had many guest roles in major television shows during the 1960s. Given his popularity during nd immditely following the Dennis run, he had many offers. These rapidly fell off soon after the series run was over, especially when he became a teenager and lost the boyish looks that made him so poular as Dennis. We have some information on these appearances. Wedo not know a great dealabout hese appearances, but hopefully our HBC readers will recall some of them.
A reader tells us, "I remember seeing a variety show where he and the boy who played his friend Tommy both wore smart looking short pants outfits. I can't remember what show it was but I believe that it must have been around 1960 or 61 during the ;'Dennis the Mence' run." Weare not show what their performnce was.
Jay guest starred in a 'Man from U.N.C.L.E.' episode, a popular campy spy action series. The episode was 'The Deadly Toy Affair'. Children were rarely featured in the U.N.C.L.E. episodes, but a reader tells us about one exception. "Last night METV showed a 'Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode with Jay North. Ironically when Jay portrayed Dennis the Menace, he never wore short pants even though he was age appropriate and Kechem's cartoons commonly depicted Dennis wearing short pnts. And the show was done in an era when it would have been correct. Strangely, in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' episode, Jay who is 14 years old is attired in a shorts pants school uniform. Unlike the Dennis series, this was not age appropriate or common in Aschools, at least American schools. Jay portrays a boy genius that TRUSH is after. All his scenes take place at a Swiss boarding school which presumably explains the short pants--giving a European flavor that fits in withthe spy theme. Surprisingly, Jay does not get mentioned as a co-star even though he was still well known in 1965 when the episode aired. In the school scenes he wears a white shirt, dark shorts, ankle socks, and dark Oxford shoes. IN the last scene he is shown with a blazer jacket, and tie, and peaked cap."
Jay had a notable guest appearance on The Lucy Show about 1965. He played Mr. Mooney's spoiled nephew on
this episode, and Lucy was asked to be his sitter one afternoon. Lucy, if memory serves, had a part-time job in this episode, playing a mechanical butler for a department store window display. She takes a lot of abuse from Jay, but finally takes him over her knee and spanks him at the end of the show.
Jay played several episodes in My Three Sons when he was about 14-15 years old. He was a friend of Chip. In one episode Chip, Jay, and another boy (played by a
child actor with lots of TV and film credits, Charles Herbert), have grown their hair shoulder length. A school prank gone awry convinces Chip it's time to find new friends and to be clipped. Jay, also shorn once again to familiar length, appears on anotherepisode in a fathers vs. sons team academic challenge, much like the old G.E. College Bowl.
Jay also appeared in many variety Shows: George Goble, Milton Berle, Dinah Shore, Eddie Fisher, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. His film T.V. shows were: Wanted Dead or Alive, Rescue Eight, Robert Taylor's Detectives, Desilu Playhouse, 77 Sunset Strip, Sugarfoot Family Films, Religious Programs, General Hospital, and Scout's Honor (T.V. movie).
One fellow child star says that Jay could not be more venomous if he was raised by snakes, and to hear him tell it he was.
Jay says now that his years as Dennis were a nightmare of loneliness and "physical and emotional abuse" from his aunt and uncle, who were his legal guardians. His aunt kept him from contact with other kids his age and claims she often beat him when he muffed a line. He took to drawing horrible pictures on the backs of his scripts, people on fire, people being hung, and dismembered. One interview given by Jay some years back indicates that his years as TV's Dennis the Menace were not very happy for him. He relates that his aunt would accompany him to the studio for filming the series, and she was rather a terror toward Jay, criticizing him severely in everyway. Jay came to hate the one role that most of us remember him as. He told one journalist that 'Dennis the Menace' was a piece of garbage. Through it all, he was the most popular child star on TV at the time that 'Dennis the Menace' ran.
Jay was not one of the more sucessful child actors among the major child stars. We are not imoressed with his cting which was adequate, but not inspiring. His blond hair and angelic looks, however, helped to make him effective in his Dennis TV series and very popular. He also starred in a short-lived TV series spun off from the movie, 'Maya' (1967-68). Unfortunately it was a poorly done show and at any rate Jay was growing up. Following the failure of the TV spin off, he was never again able to land an important role.
North had trouble adjusting after his child star faded. As Jay grew up, TV and film roles disappeared. He says, "I went from being a huge star to being a has-been at age 11. Nobody wanted me for anything because I was so heavily identified with "Dennis the Menace." He faced all sorts of problems adjusting because of this change in status and as a result of his aunt and uncle, on-stage guariabs, keeping him away from other children. He tried drugs for a little while. Jackie Cooper, the 'Our Gang' graduate, befriended Jay about this time and convinced him to give up drugs. Jackie Cooper then was in the Naval Reserve, and Jay decided to join the Navy, no doubt
with Jackie's encouragement. He served in the Navy. I saw him on a 1994 TV show and he seems to have conquered his 'personal daemons'. Fortunately North never had financial problems. His mother made say investments with his TV earnings. Anotherimportant development was a telephone call from Paul Petersen, another child star, telling him that former child star Rusty Hamer from The 'Danny Thomas Show' had committed suicide (1990). This appears to have been a turning point for North. Paul was was a childhood friend and played Jeff Stone on 'The Donna Reed Show'. Jeannie Russell who played Margaret with Dennis was also concerned. They connected him with therapist Dr. Stanley Ziegler who specialized in helping troubled former child actors. North credits his friends and therapist as helping him deal with his long-repressed anger and resentment over his unhappy Hollywood childhood.
He subsequently joined Petersen's organization-- A Minor Consideration. The group used their experiences to counsel child stars dealing with the same pressures and difficulties. Like many of us in our middle ages, Jay has gained quite a bit of weight.
Minton, Kevin. "The Menacing of Dennis," Filmfax Magazine (June–July 1993).
Richmond, Ray. "Jay North lays the demons of 'Dennis' to rest", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (June 24, 1993).
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