Monday, February 9, 2015

Happy TV Families: Part One - - Dennis the Menace (1959-63)

Dennis the Menace

Many of our happiest moments are those we spent being entertained when we were young. I love to study the lives of the famous and not so famous and sometimes the real heroes aren't who you expect them to be. Dennis the Menace was created by Hank Ketcham (1920-2001) to mirror his own family (son Dennis, wife Alice, and himself; Hank is a nickname for Henry). Let's take a look at what happened to all of the main cast members.

Jay North

Dennis Mitchell

Jay Waverly North was born August 3, 1951, in Hollywood. His father was a negligent drunk who didn't act responsible. After his parents separated when he was four, he never saw his father again. When he was six, he appeared on his favorite TV show, Cartoon Express, and that led to a career as a child actor. A few weeks before this he appeared on Queen for a Day. (His mother was a secretary for the West Coast director of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists [AFTRA] which helped get him on the show.) Jay soon got an agent. His mother was keenly aware that children in entertainment often lead troubled lives. She did her best to see that wouldn't happen, but it really didn't help, once he was working. Jay did quite a bit of television but they (his mother and his agent) worked hard to see that he got the lead on Dennis the Menace. That was his life from June 1959 through March 1963. With the death of actor Joe Kearns in 1962, many people were amazed the program stayed on the air. But when it did go off the air, it broke Jay's heart. He began going to a regular school (it was private) and he did a few acting jobs (movies and television). In 1966 he did the series Maya, which was done on location in India. After that was over, he went back to California, to finish at a private high school in Beverly Hills. He did voice work for cartoons. Then he moved to Chicago to work in theater.  At age 20, he married an actress with a four year old child from a previous marriage. The marriage lasted from July 1973 until the separation in April 1974, the divorce becoming finalized that October. During the meantime, Jay acted in his last starring role, The Teacher, about a 28 year old married teacher who got involved with a recent high school graduate. Since Dennis the Menace was still playing in reruns in some places at that time, it was quite shocking to see Jay acting and speaking the way he did in this movie. Jay started going to acting classes but was getting nowhere with his life. Jay enlisted in the US Navy in 1976 and received an honorable discharge in 1979. He was soon cast in a TV movie Scout's Honor (1980), which also featured other former child stars. Jay worked for one week on the soap opera General Hospital. In the 1980s he had  plans of starring in a project about playing mass murderer Steven Judy but that never took off. In 1991 he got married, but that only lasted three months. Then he met a caterer at a pediatric AIDS charity function in Florida and they have been happily married since 1993. After a few years of marriage it dawned on Jay that he had been physically and mentally abused by an aunt and uncle when he was a child. Seeking help for that led him into a career as a correctional officer in Florida. I haven't heard if he is still working in the prison or if he has retired but he has led an exemplary life, thanks in part to fellow child star Paul Petersen at  A Minor Consideration!

Gloria Henry

Alice Mitchell 

Born Gloria McEniry, on April 2, 1923, in New Orleans, Louisiana. She studied art history in college and moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s, working mainly as a radio actress, where she began using her stage name. Very busy in television in the 1950s, she was written out of the female lead of The Files of Jeffery Jones (1954-55) when she became pregnant. Married to architect Craig Ellwood (born Jon Nelson Burke) in 1949, they divorced in 1977. They had three children. After Dennis the Menace, she slowed her career down to take care of the family. After they grew up she continued working until 2005, when she retired. Gloria is alive and well today at the age of 91.

Herbert Anderson

Henry Mitchell

Born March 30, 1917, in Oakland, California, he was what is known in show business as a "character actor," that is someone who plays a supporting role who could be the most important character in any situation. He was the only person to be in both the Broadway version and the movie version of the Caine Mutiny. During the 1950s-1970s, he did a lot of television and never lacked for work. Herb (who was also called Guy) retired from acting in 1982 and moved to Palm Springs. He died from complications of a stroke on June 11, 1994, in Palm Springs.

Billy Booth

Tommy Anderson

Born November 7, 1949, in Los Angeles, as William Allen Booth. He had a ten year career in the movies that began when he was seven in 1957 and ended just before his 18th birthday. Billy died of a liver inflammation on December 31, 2006, in San Luis Obispo at the age of 57. Some sources give his birth year as 1952, but in the Snow Queen (1957) he was not a toddler.  After acting Billy went to Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo. He eventually became a lawyer and practiced law in San Luis Obispo.  He was divorced and was survived by a son, as well as his sister and his mother.

Joseph Kearns

George Wilson

Born on February 12, 1907, in Salt Lake City, Utah, his family moved to Los Angeles before he started to school. He came from a devout Mormon family and, although he often served as a commercial spokesman for Roma Wines, Lucky Strike cigarettes, and similar products, he completely abstained from all vices, including coffee. He went to college at the University of Utah as a music major and was an expert organist. An interesting point of trivia is that he and Gunsmoke composer Rex Koury were both organists at congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints while they were working on radio shows. Joe built his Hollywood home around an organ in his basement. In college, Joe earned money doing stage makeup for vaudeville shows. He began working in radio as an actor in the mid 1930s in Hollywood which led to television and movies. Joe died five days after his 55th birthday from a cerebral hemorrhage at his home. Joe never married. Five months later his mother died from a broken heart. On the Dennis the Menace show, his character was said to be gone on a trip and his brother John came to visit for an extended stay. 

Sylvia Field

Martha Wilson 

Born February 28, 1901, in Allston, Massachusetts, as Harriet Johnson. She moved to California as a child and began acting while still in school (she never finished her education). Married three times. Her third husband was actor Ernest Truex, and they had a very happy life together until he died in 1973. She remained good friends with Jay North until she died on July 31, 1998, at the age of 97 in her home in Fallbrook, California. This picture is from her publicity packet in the 1920s.

Gale Gordon

John Wilson

Born February 20, 1906. in New York City, he had some health issues growing up (including a cleft palate) and was sent to England as a child for therapy and education. His real name was Charles T. Aldrich, Jr. He never legally changed his name. In fact, for most of his profesional career, he lived 120-150 miles away from his work. Neighbors always thought he and his wife (Virginia Curley who also acted for a living) worked all week in an office in Los Angeles and just liked the remoteness of living in the desert for the weekends and weeks off. He lived in Borrego Springs, California, and was involved in some very light agriculture at his ranch there. Known as "Chuck" to his neighbors, his real life demeanor was nothing like the characters he portrayed. In their last days, he and his wife, (known as Ginny) both suffering from cancer, moved to a convalescent hospital in Escondido, California. Virginia died just a few months before her husband died. Chuck Aldrich died on June 30, 1995. The photo here was taken when Chuck was 19 years old. He took the name from his mother's stage name (she was a Broadway stage actress), Gloria Gordon. There are those who recall he played Flash Gordon on the radio in 1935 and thought he took the Gordon name from that, but he had been doing the Calling All Cars radio show two years before and using the name Gale Gordon. Chuck and Ginny were married in 1937 but had no children of their own.

Jeannie Russell

 Margaret Wade

Born October 20, 1950, in Pasco, Washington. She has a younger brother named Bryan Russell, who was also a child actor. Jeannie's main line of work is working as a chiropractor although she is still very active in the entertainment industry; in fact she is the one to contact for any information about the goings on of the alumni of the cast of Dennis the Menace.

Sara Seegar 

Eloise Wilson

Born July 1, 1914, in Greentown, Indiana.   Schooled in London and Paris (but graduated from Hollywood High School in Los Angeles). Sara was the youngest of five daughters who were all involved in acting, although she got into the business years after her sisters got out of it. She acted on stage, in movies, on TV, and on radio. She married actor Ezra Stone on October 10, 1942 (he was best known on radio and in movies as the character, Henry Aldrich; after that, he was a television director). Sara Seegar died on August 12, 1990, in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, leaving her husband, a son, and a daughter.

Robert John Pitman

Seymour Williams

Born January 20, 1956, in Los Angeles, California. Died about 8-10 years ago in Hawaii (according to Dennis the Menace costar Jeannie Russell). He dabbled at acting until he was in his early 30s when he began using a different name, which friends would not disclose. (Consequently, this was the only picture I could use for the 'Blog.)

It is interesting that only three members of the cast survive.  Jeannie Russell has a website (it's for her chropractic practice) and you can use that to contact her to ask any questions you may have (her e-mail address is on the site, at the top of the page). In researching this I realized there is another family worthy of study and that is the Mitchell Ketcham family. But that's for anther day.

Things are going slow so keep the family in your prayers.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Look what I found at McDonald's

Back when I was in seventh grade at Colton Junior High School my last class (that was seventh period; fourth period was lunch) was world history and geography taught by Scott Klemm. Mr. Klemm was a young teacher who had no children yet, so he and his wife spent lots of time during the long summer break traveling to foreign countries. I was only 12 and I had only been out of California twice to visit family in Oklahoma. Then we also took a few trips across the border into Tijuana but that was a few years earlier when the family lived in San Diego (and I think we may have gone there once when we lived in Oceanside). But Mr. Klemm had been all over Europe and other places.

We always thought about food and Mr. Klemm said after two weeks in Europe he looked forward to eating American food again. Back in the late 1960s fast food had not yet gone international. So when he was in London he went to a restaurant called Wimpy Burger (named for the character in the Popeye cartoons and comic strip). He said the preparation was different and so was the manner it was served. 

So over the years many of our fast food chains in America started sending out restaurants abroad. People who like to complain commented that McDonald's would ruin the world by causing everyone to eat the same unhealthy fare. Maybe that's true to some extent. But the other thing people said that this would cause was a "sameness" of culture. Everyone would claim the hamburger is their national food and Coca-Cola is their national drink. Even before that time, Coke was already in every corner of the world, save for behind the Iron Curtain, other Communist countries, and a few isolated places that didn't want anything from outside its boundaries. 

Not everyone is the same and I have some examples showing you things you can get at McDonald's all around the world.

1. Hot Dog (Japan) This is a breakfast item there. So you won't find it after 10:30 or whenever their cutoff time is between the two menus.

2. Poutine (Canada) Curds with gravy. You can get these anywhere in Canada. I never heard of them until I started doing a study on McDonald's around the world a couple of years ago.

3. Burger McDo (Philippines) Not only the menus vary but also the nickname we give the place. We Americans say "Mickey D's." But in the Philippines, they call it "McDo." And the "Do" has the same pronunciation as the first syllable of Donald. So it's "mick-DAW," only the second syllable isn't stressed out. Anyway, you don't find regular hamburgers on the Filipino McDo menu. Instead, you see the Burger McDo which is a hamburger patty (all beef) on a soft bun (different than the regular burger) and some kind of secret sauce which I remember as being reminiscent of Jack in the Box secret sauce (do they still use that?) I made the comment when I was living in Mindanao that I didn't see a regular hamburger on the menu. One manager told me it's there. You just order a cheeseburger without cheese. Next, I'll teach you how to get a grilled cheese sandwich at any hamburger stand.

4. Onion Rings (Malta) I am not much of a French fry eater. I will eat them but I would much rather have onion rings. Malta isn't the only country with onion rings. But it's the one country that has discussed removing French fries from the menu.

5. Deluxe Double McPork (Vietnam) McDonald's has a pork version of every hamburger served. I lived in Vietnam between 2006 and 2008 but McDonald's didn't get there until February 14, 2014. Next Saturday will be their first anniversary.

6. Big Mac (Israel) Yeah, I know you can get a Big Mac anywhere. But look at this hamburger very quickly. If you know the rules about Kosher eating you know that meat and dairy products are never served together. The Israeli Big Mac has no cheese. 

7. Chicken McDo & McSpaghetti (Philippines)  More from the Philippines. You can actually buy a whole bucket of Chicken McDo, which is fried chicken, complete with the bones. McSpaghetti is a Filipino favorite. The sauce is not spicy but sweet. It has pieces of ground beef in it and sliced up hot dogs (or "hotdogs" as it's usually written in the Philippines). Don't expect to find spaghetti on the McDonald's menu in Italy. It's not there.

8. Chicken Maharaja Mac (India) One of the things those critics I mentioned at the beginning of this post said was that the popularity of McDonald's would get the Hindus in India to start eating beef. No. There is no beef on the menus there. In fact some are completely vegetarian. The Chicken Maharaja Mac is the chickenized version of a Big Mac. 

9. Bacon Roll (United Kingdom) This is a breakfast item that the Brits have been eating for over a century. It's a long roll with bacon and ketchup. Very simple but it looks great. (I am a bacon lover.)

10. Twister Fries (Indonesia) As I said I'm not much of a French fry eater but curly fries usually have a lot more flavor. This is a new item at McDonald's in Indonesia. I think you'll find them in other countries, too.

11. Double Filet-O-Fish (Singapore) Actually you can buy two fish sandwiches and put the cakes of fish together. But it's so nice when they put it on the sandwich for you. 

12. Georgie Pie (New Zealand) This is a meat pie New Zealanders have been eating for generations. Unlike the American pot pie, it's finger food. The local nickname for McDonald's is Macca's.

13. Salad Sandwich (Fiji) It's a typical tossed salad with dressing on a sesame seed bun. All the McDonald's in Fiji are certified Halal.

14. McArabia (Saudi Arabia) It's a chicken sandwich with lettuce, onion, and tomato, condiments inside some soft Arabic bread. This is actually found throughout the Middle East.

15. Fish McBites (Spain) Breaded fish balls. I guess they're something like a fish version of Chicken McNuggets. Incidentally, when I lived in Indonesia (mid 1990s) McDonald's served fried chicken because Indonesians at that time were not generally accustomed to frozen food. So they had fried chicken. It was not unusual to have chicken coops in restaurants. A KFC outlet near where my family lived in Bogor, West Java, had a chicken coop in the dining area.

16. Double Big Mac (Thailand) I first saw this sandwich in Japan and later they had what they called a Mega Mac, which had four patties. That's a little overkill, if you ask me (but if I were to go back to Japan, I would definitely get one if I happened to be at McDonald's).  Please forgive the variance of sizes on these pictures, my Photoshop program is on the fritz at the present time. They come from lots of sources.

17. Grand Big Mac (Italy) This makes Double Big Mac look small. It's two Quarter Pounder patties on bigger buns. (As I said, I'm sorry the pictures aren't all the same scale.)

18. Mega McMuffin (South Africa) It's not a bigger English muffin... they put more meat on it... It has two pork sausage patties, a slice of ham, a slice of cheese, a fried egg, and some bacon slices. 

19. McOz (Australia) For those 45 years ago who thought McDonald's would turn the world American, Australia would prove them wrong. This hamburger is an Aussie creation. It has something most people in this part of the world might find revolting: A slice of beet (they call it beetroot). Like the folks in New Zealand, McDonald's in Australia is called Macca's.

20. Angus Premium Bacon Burger (Argentina) While we in America (which includes all the territories) lost our Angus Burger most of the world that had it before kept it (including Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, and lots of other countries). Argentina (where NOT eating meat is a crime) put another big Angus beef patty on their burger. 

The book you saw at the top of this posting is from the early 1960s, about an American boy who has a young friend from Germany visit him and the story explains their dining experience at the local hamburger stand. As you see the last picture here, they didn't have dining rooms then. Nope, MickeyD's wouldn't get those until I was a sophomore in high school. I remember the first one in our area to have one was on Mill Street, across from the National Orange Show fairgrounds in San Bernardino. Colton wouldn't get a McDonald's until after I finished high school. Funny thing, BOTH of those hamburger stands are gone now. 

As far as my list, some of you are probably wondering why I didn't include drinks. I mean everyone always gets intrigued by the idea that McDonald's in Germany sells beer and McDonald's in Argentina sells wine. But Europe is changing. My friends in Germany tell me that many of the McDonald's there have stopped selling wine because they got tired of drunk customers (something people from outside of Germany have trouble fathoming). 

Anyway, I'll post most stuff like this. If you like it. Let me know.