Your son Dennis is a menace!
Immortal words in American pop culture history
It was late 1950, and former Walt Disney animator Hank Ketcham was busy in his studio, creating comic strip ideas for possible syndication. His wife Alice had just spent 2 hours dealing with their son who, rather than sleep, decided to ruin his bedroom. Finally succeeding, she stormed into Hank's office and blurted out those very words. An idea bubbled about in Hank's head, and he drew a few rough sketches of his newest creation: Dennis the Menace.
Dennis the Menace had his first syndicated debut on March 12, 1951. Within three years, Dennis had achieved worldwide fame, reaching 30 million people in 250 newspapers. Dennis was the epitome of the precocious five year old - clever but naive, mischievous but benign, cute but just a bit dangerous. Dennis's one-panel one liners were often surprising and precocious - just the attitude Ketcham wanted him to have. Cast alongside his pooch pal Ruff, his best friend Tommy, his embattled girl interest Margaret, and the perfect foil in crotchety neighbor George Wilson, Dennis had a seemingly unbounded source of energy, which constantly got him in (and occasionally, out of) trouble.
Dennis continued to grow in popularity, so much so that he had his own comic book, a musical (Dennis The Musical can still be seen in off-off-Broadway productions across America), tons of merchandise from notepads to pencils to ceramic figurines, and in 1959, his own TV show. Starring Jay North as the plucky Dennis and Joseph Kearns as Mr. "Fiddle Faddle" Wilson, the show lasted 4 seasons to varied success. The success of Dennis in the papers continued unabated, and in 1968 he was published in his 1000th paper. Little known fact: Dennis the Menace's first animated venture onto television occurred in 1968, when he landed a syndicated Saturday morning spot on NBC. Ketcham didn't like the workload, however, and the show ended after only 5 episodes.
In 1972, Ketcham decided to use Dennis' marketable powers to his advantage, signing a 20 year deal with Dairy Queen to have Dennis & Co. serve as their spokestoons. Ketcham, a devout Christian, also used Dennis to tell Bible Stories in the aptly named "Dennis and the Bible Kids" series put out by Word Books of Waco, Texas. Ten comic books were issued all in all, and along with Al Hartley's Christian Archie comics for Spire helped bring Christianity to the youth culture on the most intimate level yet.
In 1986, Dennis the Menace was again revived for the little screen, with the new series lasting 3 seasons and featuring a then relatively-unknown Phil Hartman as the voice of Dennis's father Henry. Finally, in 1993, Hollywood hotshot John Hughes stepped up and wrote a cute and breezy screenplay for the characters of America's favorite 5-year-old. Dennis The Menace put Dennis in the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson while his parents went away to visit relatives. While there, he meets a dangerous crook (Christopher Lloyd) - or rather, the crook finally meets Dennis the Menace! With Mason Gamble in the title role and Walter Matthau as the grumpy Mr. Wilson, the movie met with critical and box office success. In 1995, Hank Ketcham officially retired as Dennis the Menace's daily artist, and was replaced by his protege, Marcus Hamilton.
Today, Dennis the Menace is printed in 1200 newspapers throughout 48 countries, spanning 19 languages. And what of his inspiration, Dennis Ketcham? Unfortunately, Dennis took a stint in Vietnam that left him inexorably wrecked with post-traumatic stress disorder. His illness was so debilitating that he and Hank grew out of touch, and he never saw his dad until shortly before Hank's death in 2001.
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