1 9 5 9 – 1 9 6 3 (USA)
146 x 30 minute episodes
This famous black & white sitcom from CBS featured young scamp Dennis Mitchell (Jay North) who lived at 627 Elm Street, Hillsdale and couldn’t resist getting into mischief despite his (usually) good intentions.
Joseph Kearns played the stern, bespectacled George Wilson until 1962. Kearns died in his sleep in early 1962 with six episodes left to shoot for the season
Producers brought in Gale Gordon (The Lucy Show) to finish up and introduced him as the other Mr Wilson, George’s brother, John, who was staying with Martha Wilson (Sylvia Field) while George was “away on business.”
Ominously, the next season he was merely “Mr Wilson” and he and his wife (Sara Seeger) inhabited the Wilson abode as if the previous owners had simply been wished into the cornfield.
The series ran on CBS for four seasons from October 1959 to September 1963 and was shown in the UK as Just Dennis to avoid confusion with the Beano comic character also called Dennis The Menace. The series screened in re-runs across the USA almost continuously.
Mr Wilson was never intended to be a major character when the series first launched, but the interplay between Dennis and the perpetually aggravated neighbour worked better than anyone anticipated and the character ended up in episode after episode.
Hank Ketcham was the creator of the comic strip upon which the show was based. Ketcham had favoured an animated version of his character (who was named for his attention-deficit-disordered son after his wife called the boy a menace), but the networks weren’t interested, so the artist concentrated on the strip. But eventually Hollywood did come calling.
Defending his creation, Ketcham once said. “He is a totally well-meaning, totally honest little boy. Everything he does is out of curiosity, energy or just because it is fun to do or because he thinks he is being helpful – in short, all the things that are normal in a young animal. Always there is his belief that he is doing the right thing.”
Subsequent releases have included a one-off animated special in 1981, a two-hour TV movie version in 1987 starring Victor Di Mattia as Dennis, a full animated series from 1986 to 1988, and a 1993 feature film, Dennis, with Mason Gamble as Dennis and Walter Matthau as Mr Wilson.