|Joseph Kearns. (All images courtesy Hank Ketcham Enterprises, Inc.|
and Shout! Factory LLC, unless noted otherwise.)
THERE is absolutely no way the sitcom Dennis the Menace (CBS, 1959-1963) affected the course of TV history whatsoever. The adaptation of Hank Ketcham's comic strip was so faithful to the original source (except for the dog, Fremont), it inevitably had more comedy than depth. It was one among many, many series produced by Screen Gems (the TV division of Columbia Pictures) in a way similar to manufacturing automobiles in Detroit. It wasn't a monster hit, it never got nominated for an Emmy, and what success it had eventually came to complicate the life of star Jay North. (Don't think for a moment I wrote all of this to intentionally annoy anybody who really enjoys the series. It just needs to be discussed in the proper perspective. Be thankful I'm not diving into the "hornet's nest" of how Mr. Wilson's nerve tonic probably had alcohol content in it, like cough medicine used to. With Dennis around, you know he had a lot of nerve tonic, and you can guess what resulted from that.)
Mary Wickes) who participated in each story. If DtM is like a car from off an assembly line, it was a well made product people are still interested in long after the last one came out in '63. Best of all, the show didn't overstay its welcome, though it had to stop at four years due to the aging of the juvenile cast members and a dip in the TV ratings. While North has had a rough go of adulthood, a pall doesn't hang over my enjoyment of DtM because back then, his troubles had yet to manifest, and he was a professional (albeit young) actor who always gave those who tuned in what they wanted: the hell-raising (by TV standards) Dennis Mitchell, who also loved his family and friends. No more, no less. (You want a more complex, emotional kid? Try "Beaver" Cleaver.)
|P.S. - The slingshot|
wouldn't be around long.
|left to right: Stu Shostak,|
Jeannie Russell and Gloria Henry
Joesph Kearns, forever to be remembered as the first Mr. Wilson, Russell and Henry did speak fondly of him. Along the way, there was this exchange (minor edits inserted for the sake of clarity)....
SHOSTAK: Now, did [Kearns] go on a diet, because--
HENRY: Yes, yes--
SHOSTAK: --because of the fame of the show?
HENRY: Yes, he decided he [was]... the star, so he should slim down and look more like a star, and so, he went on the diet of that-- What was that drink [powder] you [mixed] with [water]?
HENRY: Metrecal, and he had that for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That's all he had for about six weeks in a row, and you can't lose that much weight, that fast, healthily. So, he had a stroke.
|(Find A Grave)|
Jack Lalanne, and he likely hadn't done any real physical exertion in years. So it goes that by having only Metrecal for sustenance and continuing with the same limited activity, the results took a toll on his person as he lost (according to Henry in the radio interview) 40 pounds within six weeks. Also, Henry's statements suggest more than a few of the cast and crew knew what he was up to. Why didn't somebody intervene? Was it because of his known shyness that they decided to respect his privacy?
We occasionally read about (or hear of) women who go to extreme measures to lose weight (real or imagined), ranging from supermodels to little girls of elementary school age. We rarely encounter the same kind of tales being told of (or by) men, but as the tragedy of Joseph Kearns serves to remind us, men can also have problems with their body image. It's sad and astonishing to consider a reliable, likeable actor like Kearns wasn't content with himself in a similar manner. (If Kearns died today, a tabloid headline might read, "Mr. Wilson: He Died to be Thin!") Most importantly, Kearns's fate was preventable, which makes his death all the more pointless. By comparison, it's as heart-wrenching stuff as any suffering Jay North has gone through. (Heck, Jay recently turned 60; so far, he's outlived Kearns by five years, and I suspect he'll live on for many more.)
Unfortunately, the two people who contributed most to the popularity of DtM were also overwhelmed by it. The untimely death of Joseph Kearns affected Jay North deeply years after the fact. It would only be until the 1990's when North came to grips with all the pent-up emotion over the bad events that occurred in his childhood, thanks to the efforts of Jeannie Russell and Paul Petersen ("Jeff Stone" on The Donna Reed Show). As of today, it's safe to say both North and Kearns (God rest his soul) are no longer menaced by Dennis.
NEXT TIME ON... COBWEB TV!
Keeping it trivial....