Aug 3, 2007

Happy Birthday Jay North

At some point every generation embraces it's inner brat. There's a long history of fictional characters that are funny because of their nasty behavior. Just how mean the characters can be or how much they can get away with depends on the mood of the country at the time. Before the kids of South Park there was Bart Simpson. Before that, Kevin Mcallister [Home Alone] & Junior [Problem Child] and on down the line. In the 50's, the brat du jour was Dennis the Menace.

Hank Ketchum was living in Monterey California with his wife Alice and 4 year old son Dennis. One peaceful day Alice checks in on Dennis who has been put down for his nap. Mrs. Ketchum discovers that Dennis didn't want a nap. He's not only awake, he's in the process of ripping his room apart.

I'm sure Hank can hear a commotion, but every married man knows what's coming next. No matter how bad Dennis has been, Alice can only be so mad at the kid but the rest of that frustration and anger has gotta go somewhere. Being smart, Ketcham stays in the studio and waits for the storm to come to him. He didn't know his wife's next words were going to change his life.

"Your son is a menace!" Alice roars, and the little light goes on. Our son Dennis ...the Menace. In her exasperation, Ketcham's wife helped to create one of the most popular and enduring comic strips of the 20th century.

Dennis the Menace first appears on March 12, 1951 in sixteen papers. Eight years later millions are reading the strip around the world and the Dennis the Menace TV show begins it's four year run. Jay North is hand picked by Ketcham to play America's new wonder brat.

North played Dennis for four seasons and may have played him longer but near the end of the third season, Joseph Kearns who had been playing Mr. Wilson passed away. The show brought in Gale Gordon to play Mr. Wilson's brother for season 4. It's no fault of Gordon's but the show didn't recover.

For North, Hollywood roles slowly dried up and he eventually became a prison guard in the Florida penal system. He is now retired and living in Central Fl. He occasionally attends nostalgia conventions signing autographs for fans and discussing his days as Hollywood's tow headed terror.

The official Dennis the Menace site is pretty good with lots of info on Hank Ketcham and his creation

Hank Ketcham also wrote his autobiography and you can get it from the publisher here. This same publisher [Fantagraphics Books] is also releasing all of Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace strips in a planned 25 volume set. Every year a new book is released with two full years of Dennis strips. If you're a big fan of comic strip art, you owe a visit to Fantagraphics site.

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