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.


  1. You have the wrong Herb Anderson. The man pictured here was Herbert Anderson Searle. He was a teacher.

  2. Thank you Billy and Jeannie! God bless you!