Monday, March 12, 2012

Some Kids Never Grow Up

Today marks the 61st anniversary of the debut of the Dennis the Menace.Cartoonist Hank Ketchum based the comic strip’s mischievious five-and-a-half-year-old Dennis Mitchell on the antics of his own young son Dennis. The young Mitchell’s proclivity for causing trouble (often unintentionally) leaves his parents, Henry and Alice, rolling their eyes and long-suffering neighbor George Wilson ducking for cover.

The popularity of the strip led to a number of live-action adaptation beginning with the eponymous television series that ran 146 episodes from October 4, 1959 to July 7, 1963. Jay North, eight years old when the show premiered, portrayed Dennis for all four seasons. Interestingly, the Wilsons’ home had been built in the late ’30s for the Blondie film series. The character returned to small screen 24 years later when the television movie Dennis the Menace: Dinosaur Hunter was released in 1987 with Victor DiMattia in the title role.

In 1993, Warner Bros. released Dennis the Menace written by John Hughes of The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame and directed by Nick Castle. The film stars Mason Gamble as Dennis, Walter Matthau as Mr. Wilson, Joan Plowright as Mrs. Wilson, Robert Stanton and Lea Thompson as Henry and Alice Mitchell, and Christopher Lloyd as the villainous Switchblade Sam. Dennis the Menace Strikes Again, a direct-to-video sequel with an entirely new cast, followed five years later. Justin Cooper takes on the lead with Don Rickles and Betty White playing the Wilsons. George Kennedy, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Scott ‘Carrot Top’ Thompson also appear. A Dennis the Menace Christmas, a second direct-to-video sequel, appeared in 2007 with Maxwell Perry Cotten, Robert Wagner, and Louise Fletcher.

*A similarly titled British strip (now known as Dennis & Gnasher) appeared in the comic book Beano around roughly the same time as Ketcham’s creation.

(Images, top to bottom: Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketcham, November 30, 1951, King Features; Jay North as Dennis and Joseph Kearns as George Wilson in Dennis the Menace television series, Sony Pictures)

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