Closer Weekly




The beloved ’60s sitcom’s cast reveals secrets from the set.

Once, when Jay North was playing the titular miscreant in Dennis the Menace, the hit sitcom’s cast and crew threw him a birthday party. “Jay was 7 or 8, and he loved pirates,” Gloria Henry, who played his mom, tells Closer. “We got an old chest out of props and filled it with beads and a ship in a bottle and all kinds of pirate things. He was thrilled to death.”

Sadly, there were many less joyful times for Jay on the set of the 1959 to 1963 comedy based on Hank Ketcham’s popular comic strip. Jay later revealed that he was abused by the aunt and uncle who were his guardians (his mom, who raised him, worked at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and couldn’t be with him during the day). Jay was separated from the other kids on the show and forced to rehearse his lines incessantl­y in his dressing room; if he got them wrong too many times, he was struck. “My aunt was careful never to hit me in front of anyone else, and in places on my body where it wouldn’t show,” Jay recalled. “She threatened if I ever told, she’d get me. And I believed her.”

Although his co-stars — like Herbert Anderson, who played his dad and whom Gloria calls “warm and easy” — were unaware of the abuse, Jay’s aunt always “looked manic and angry,” Gloria recalls. “I could understand his hating to work under those circumstan­ces. He enjoyed being a star, but he also wanted a childhood.”


Jay’s tribulatio­ns weren’t the only difficult times on set. In the midst of the show’s third season, Joseph Kearns, who played Dennis’ neighbor and nemesis, Mr. Wilson, went on a crash liquid diet, it’s been said, that had caused him to lose 20 to 30 pounds quickly, and he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 55. “We loved Joe,” Gloria says. “Underneath the old grump was a sweet, kind man.”

The cast was also attached to Sylvia Field, who played Mrs. Wilson, but when Joseph was replaced by Gale Gordon as Mr. Wilson’s brother, a new wife was brought on as well. “We asked, ‘Can’t she just suddenly have a different husband?’ ” Gloria recalls. “They said no because it’s a family show and people would be upset.” The co-stars gave replacemen­t Sara Seegar the cold shoulder. “She knew that and felt it,” Gloria says. After Sara confronted her co-stars, “We felt guilty and said we were sorry.”

Despite the behind-the-scenes turmoil, Dennis was a huge hit, airing on CBS’ Sunday lineup between Lassie and The Ed Sullivan Show. “It was the perfect baby boomer show,” Paley Center for Media curator Ron Simon tells Closer. “They found a character they could identify with.” But after four seasons, Jay had grown so much that he no longer fit the role — or his overalls. “For a while they kept making them bigger and wider,” says Gloria. “We could look down and see his little undershort­s on his bottom — the overalls were so wide, there was a gap.”

When the show was canceled in 1963, no one was happier than Jay. He kept acting on series like The Lucy Show and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but retired and became a prison guard, helping troubled youth in Florida. “I still don’t think it was a great show,” Jay said in 1993. “But it did bring joy to a lot of people. I’m happy about that. But I’m finally starting a new life and burying Dennis Mitchell. I need very badly to again be Jay North, whoever that is.” — Bruce Fretts, with reporting by Amanda Champagne-Meadows

“We were like a family on the set.” — Jay

 ??  ?? Jay North and Jeannie Russell (who played pal Margaret) at a New Jersey expo
in 2013
Jay North and Jeannie Russell (who played pal Margaret) at a New Jersey expo in 2013
 ??  ??

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