Ketcham's cartoon brainchild has been the subject of a hit network TV series, starring Jay North, which ran from 1959 to 1963, and still appears on stations around the country. Dennis was played by Jay North. Dennis usually wears bib front overalls in the TV series. On a few rare occasions he appears in a suit, but not short pants even though he started the series at about 6 years of age and often appeared n a short pants suit in the comic. In the cartoon Dennis' mother dresses him up in a jacket with short pants for church and other occasions. One more example how child stars on television in the 1950s and 60s were never pictured in short pants. The series was popular, but I think it never approached the telling insights into childhood that "Leave It to Beaver" attained. Jay was bit to old for the part by the end of the series. Rather disappointing. I never remember seeing any even mildly interesting episodes when I watched it as a boy. But I did see one very episode while it was playing as reruns. Mr. Wilson has a nightmare where he is in school with the children. The boys are all geniuses and wearing very black short pant suits with knee socks. (Typical as the few boys wearing shorts and knee socks on TV were usually in swank private schools or rich, incorrigible children.) Mr. Wilson can't match them, but he is dressed just like them in shorts. You can see Joey's suit. Dennis is, however, wearing a cap and gown and it is not clear what he is wearing. In another episode he wore basketball shorts. They were the short cut style, which reminds one of how basketball shorts have changed. They are now so long and baggy. In another episode, Dennis winds up baby sitting for a visiting French boy, Michel (Petit Michel). Michel is a personable little chap about 9 years old. He wears a very smart short pants suit complete with cap and knee socks.
Ketcham's cartoon brainchild has been the subject of a hit network TV series, starring Jay North, ran from 1959 to 1963. "Dennis the Menace" was shown on CBS on Sunday evening, following
"Lassie". Quite possibly, the network felt it had a hold on the "family" audience. The TV series probably was destined to be less successful than the comic strip of the same title. What is funny in one cartoon frame may be impossible to sustain in a thirty minutes
TV format. Still, the impish quality "Dennis" patented in the cartoon was the source of the TV show's humor as well. The series still appears on stations around the world in syndication. It does not run as extesively as clasics likde I love Licy, Leave it to Beaver, Andy Griffith, and The Brady Bumch, but it ios occasdsinally seen.
Dennis was played by Jay North. He had blond hair and was a very effective Dennis in his TV series. 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, except in one episode set around Mr' Wilson's dream or prhps better sais, nightmare. . Jay landed the Dennis part when he was 7 years old.
Jay was bit to old for the part by the end of the series. He told one journalist that Dennis the Menace was a piece of garbage. Through it all, he was very popular. probanly the most popular child stat in the eraly 1960s. He had many guest roles in major television shows.
Remarkably, not only did Jay resemble closely his cartoon character, but so too did Gloria Henry, who played Alice Mitchell, Dennis' mom, and veteran
character actor Herb Anderson, who played dad, Henry Mitchell. One difference between cartoon strip and TV show that is perceptible, however, is that Joey, Dennis' best friend in the cartoon strip, is overshadowed by Tommy, played by Billy Booth, in the
TV show. Tommy appears to be Dennis' age, while Joey looked to be a couple of years younger. Perhaps the inclusion of this new character gave scriptwriters more options for spinning mischief. In both cartoon and TV show bespectacled Margaret was Dennis' bete noire. She was Dennis' antithesis: if Dennis were mischievous and "all boy", Margaret was a prim and proper young lady, forever baffled by the ways of little boys. Secretly, though, she was probably just a bit smitten by Dennis!
One difference between the TV series and the cartoon it was base on was Dennis' age. The cartoon shows him to be about a 5-year old pre-school boy. Jay North was 6-years old when he began the series and 11 or 12 when the series ended in 1963--clearly too old for the gags associated with the cartoon character.
I don't recall Dennis' costume ever fitting into the plot of one of the episodes. Throughout the series' run, Dennis' costuming showed a remarkable consistency. Dennis in the cartoon series had one primary outfit--bib-front overalls. He sometimes was dressed up in a suit--usually for church. Only occasionally did he appear in any other outfits. Costuning in the TV series was different. Dennis did wear the bib-front overalls in the TV series, but not all the time.
Dennis often wore bib front overalls in the TV series. If my memory serves me correctly, however, he did not all wear his bif-front overalls virtually all the time as in the comic strip. It has been a while since I have viewed the series, so my memory is hazy here. I'm not sure what color his overalls were as the series was in balck and white. The color photo here shows a blueish-green pair of overalls.
Dennis wore his bib-front overalls with his trade-mark striped "T"-shirt. The stripes, however, were a bit different than the ones in the cartoon. I don't remember Dennis wearing in any episode one staple of boys' clothes: the plain, white cotton T-shirt. Tommy, Dennis' friend, seems usually to have worn a dark T-shirt with a pair of jeans.
Jay switched from coveralls to regular jeans for the last couple of seasons, probably because he was growing up and looked rather silly in coveralls which only younger boys wore.
In the cartoon, Dennis is often pictured as dressed up for church in a short pants suit or blazer and short pants with saddle shoes. Dennis in the TV series, however, never seemed to go to church--quite different than the cartoon. Dennis did occasionally dress up for a party. When Dennis dressed up, he wore a dark suit and a neck tie--never a bow tie. On the few rare occasions when he appears in a suit he swears long pants, even though he started the series at about 6 years of age. This is one more example of how child stars on television in the 1950s and 60s were never pictured in short pants.
In a couple of episodes, Dennis wore a swimsuit for a scene. These were scenes given just before the opening credits and familiar theme song rolled, as a sort of warm-up for
the show. A reader writes, "There was one "Dennis The Menace" episode that I know in which Dennis clad in swimming trunks, as I recall, in the opening
teaser of the episode entitled "Dennis and the Bike" shows him running
into the kitchen asking his mother for a mop. She asks what for and he replys, "Because when that bathtub overflows ... it really overflows." Another difference from the comic was pajamas. The cartoon commonly shows him keeling down to say his payers by his bed in footed pajamas. I don't remember him wearing those pajamas in the TV series.
The boys all wore sneakers. Dennis in the TV-series wore black high-top Keds sneakers with his bibfront overalls. Unlike the cartooon, his overalls did not cover his Keds. These wre standard wear for American boys in the 1950s. By the 1960s, however, boys were increasingly wearing white low-cut sneakers in more trendy designs.
One major costuming change came to occurred in the last season. Dennis' bib overalls were traded for long trousers. The producers must have thought he was too old for the overalls. Like most other boy TV characters from this time, Dennis wore
blue jeans and what looked to be long gabardine trousers. His familiar striped, crew-neck shirt gave way to a striped, pullover shirt with a collar.
The series was popular, but I think it never approached the telling insights into childhood that "Leave It to Beaver" attained. Rather disappointing. HBC does not think "Debbis" compares favorably to the "Beaver" as a depiction of American suburban childhood. Possibly, it is due to the differences between the shows' creators. I don't know about "Dennis", but Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, who created "Beaver", say they drew on actual family experiences for inspiration. Dennis' writers were constrained by the fact that the public was already familiar with the "Dennis" character; there was less room for creative expression. As for the clothing in "Dennis", the show's creators seemed to play it safe, just using typical, familiar costuming.
Jay North's scathing remarks about the show, found on the HBC Jay Noth page, more likely reflect his anger from a troubled upbringing than the show's quality. The "Dennis" shows were targeted for a
juvenile audience and their parents; they're not lessons in sociology or psychology. The storylines seem archetypical of the American pre-Vietnam Age of Innocence: unrealistic, shallow, and contrived to be resolved in a half hour format. The show hardly seems worse (but not much better) than other programs that made up what the industry called "Kidvid". I thought the TV Dennis was at his best when he delivered utterly candid observations (in all childhood innocence, of course) about adult behavior. For example, Dennis and his mom went to pay a call on gossipy, man-chasing Miss Cathcart, played by Mary Wickes. When Miss Cathcart took some time to come to the door and let them in, Dennis asked, "Gee, Miss Cathcart, what were you doin', takin' a bath?" Mom can only say, "Dennis!" Or the time, with Mr. and Mrs. Wilson both present, Dennis asks Mrs. Wilson to show him her muscle. Mrs. Wilson asked, "Why, dear?" And Dennis answers that he's heard his mom say that Mrs. Wilson says she can "wrap Mr. Wilson around her little finger."
The best plots on the TV show revolved around Dennis' misunderstanding or mishandling of something of imporatance to his parents or Mr. Wilson or other adults. What disaster would come of it, and what would Dennis do to resolve it? By the end of the series run,
Jay North, as pointed out by others, seemed a little old for the role. Instead of laughing along with his antics, we the audience might say, "He's old enough to know better than that!" Much like Dennis himself, TV was also growing up quickly; audiences, even juvenile
viewers, were become jaded of the innocence these shows portrayed.
Few episodes touched on clothing or even had clothing figure in the plot. I do recall one interesting episode. Mr. Wilson has a nightmare where he is in school with the children. The boys are all geniuses and wearing very black short pant suits with knee socks. (Typical as the few boys wearing shorts and knee socks on TV were usually in swank private schools or rich, incorrigible children.) Mr. Wilson can't match them, but he is dressed just like them in shorts. You can see Joey's suit. Dennis is, however, wearing a cap and gown and it is not clear what he is wearing. In another episode he wore basketball shorts. They were the short cut style, which reminds one of how basketball shorts have changed. They are now so long and baggy. In another episode, Dennis winds up baby sitting for a visiting French boy, Michel (Petit Michel). Michel is a personable little chap about 9 years old. He wears a very smart short pants suit complete with cap and kneesocks. Such outfits on this series as well as other American TV series of the 1950s and 60s were commonly shown to be either outfits fpr either rich (often spoliledf) Americam kids or (usually well-behavedf) European kids. HBC will have to catalog these episides at some time.
Like many American sitcoms, Dennis the Menace has been shown around the world, including England. This series was, however, called Just Dennis in Britain--no doubt because of the similarities with Just William. In fact, the name "Dennis the Menace" had already been appropriated for an entirely different character in either the Beano or the Dandy comic. A British reader remebers viewing the series, "Just Dennis was one of my favourite TV shows as a kid and I'm sure I'd enjoy viewing it now. Jay North looked so American in his dungarees!"
A HBC reader reports seeing a 1950s movie (black & white) Dennis the Menace movie. I don't recall seeing one in the 50s, but two were made in the 1990s. Both were OK, but a bit more dramatic than really called for by Dennis. The whole idea of the character is the ordinary everyday boyhood expereiences. Also I had a hard time getting beyond the Dennis characyer. I was so used to thinking about Dennis as Jay North. Of course the boy in the 1990s Dennis movies was more in keeping with the age of the cartoon character.
A classic American boyhood character is Dennis the Menace who appeared in the deawings of Hern Ketchum in 1950. Dennis is the once arch-typical blond hair American tyke with with a
trade-mark 'cowlick' curl on his forehead. He has an irresistable and adorable personality. Dennis and his run ins with grumpy old Mr. Wilson have since become a part of our national experience as well as appearing in newspapers all over the world. Dennis' bip-front overalls have changed little over this time, but he no longer dresses up in short pants like he used to.
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