Dennis The Menace: Living in Wichita for 65 Years
Wichita's own Dennis the Menace is 65 years old!
Dennis the Menace, a nationally recognized comic strip began on March 12, 1951. Since the comic's inception, however, Dennis's "birthday" has been moved back two days, to March 14, to coincide with the birthday of the cartoon's creator, Hank Ketcham.
Dennis the Menace is comic to which almost any reader can relate. It was for this reason that Ketcham, waited 40 years before announcing that Dennis Mitchell, his family and his friends were from none other than Wichita, Kansas.
“I had been postponing naming any specific city as to Dennis's address because I wanted everyone in America to feel that he lived next door to him," Ketcham told the Washington Post.
The announcement that the beloved cartoon was based in Wichita came with the 1990 release of Ketcham’s illustrated autobiography, entitled “The Merchant of Dennis”.
For quite some time, Ketcham himself was uncertain as to exactly where the comics took place and added that he had only recently determined a specific city in which the story would take place, as a stage adaptation of Dennis the Menace was being produced and a defined setting was needed.
Never having so much as visited Wichita, Ketcham was enchanted by stories he’d heard of the city from a few friends who were originally from Wichita, according to the Washington Post.
About Dennis the Menace
Ketcham created Dennis the Menace in October 1950, and within six months, it was syndicated to 16 newspapers. Today Dennis the Menace is distributed to over 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and has been translated into 19 languages.
Dennis, the menace himself, is “5 an’ a half” years old. Like most children this age, he's quite a handful. Inquisitive, imaginative and hard to catch, Dennis is always getting himself into trouble. Dennis's father, Henry Mitchell is an aerospace engineer who understands Dennis and relates to him well. Alice Mitchell is Dennis's stay-at-home mom, who's always ready to offer a hug. Dennis is best buds with Ruff Mitchell, the family's big, lovable dog. The Mitchell's also have a cat, named Hot Dog, though it is rarely seen. Mr. Wilson, Dennis's neighbor, is a grumpy old man and a retired postal worker. Dennis considers Mr. Wilson his best adult friend, though Wilson is often annoyed by Dennis's antics.
According to the Dennis the Menace website, Henry “Hank” Ketcham creator of Dennis the Menace, remained involved in the production of the comic strip up until his death in June of 2001.
Born in Seattle, Washington in 1920, Ketcham developed an interest in drawing when he was just seven years old. A friend of his family was a local art director at the time, and he would doodle sketches to entertain Ketcham. Ketcham loved drawing from then on and began practicing every chance he got.
In 1937 he entered the University of Washinton as an art major, but after a year he followed his heart to Hollywood, instead. He began at the Walter Lantz animation studio before moving to Walt Disney Studios where he worked on "Pinnochio", "Fantasia", and other well-known Disney films.
Shortly thereafter, he served as a chief photography specialist in the U.S. Navy. During this time, he was in Washington D.C., where he continued to develop animated film spots, cartoons, magazines and posters to promote the sale of war bonds. He also drew cartoons for magazines to earn an additional income.
When the war had ended, he decided to work as a freelance cartoonist. It wasn't long before Ketcham became one of the country’s most prolific cartoonists. Regularly selling his work to Collier’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Liberty, The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as to advertising agencies, Ketcham quickly captured the hearts of many readers. By this time, he had also captured the heart of Alice Louise Mahar, his wife. Together, they had a son named Dennis.
Awards and Achievements
In 1952, Ketcham was recognized by the National Cartoonists Society with a Billy DeBeck Trophy (now known as the Reuben Award) for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year. Four years later, the Boys Clubs of America awarded him a certificate for Best Magazine Comic. Ketcham also received aSilver T-Square Award from the NCS in 1978 in recognition of his outstanding service to the cartooning profession. Ketcham was honored with the “Inkpot Award” from the San Diego Comic Convention as outstanding cartoonist of the year in 1982.
More Than a Comic Strip
Dennis the Menace went on to be much more than a comic, leaping off of the page and onto the big screen for multiple films and TV series.
Dennis the Menace television series, 1959
Dennis Mitchell fist appeared on television when the Dennis the Menace CBS television series premiered in 1959. The show preceded The Ed Sullivan Show. Airing 146 episodes between October of 1959 and July of 1953, the American sitcom starred Jay North as Dennis, Herbert Anderson and Gloria Henry as his father and mother respectively and Joseph Kearns as George Wilson.
Dennis the Menace animated television series, 1986
An animated Dennis the Menace series followed. Produced by DIC Entertainment, Atkinson Film Arts and General Mills, this series aired 79 episodes in 1986, 1987 and 1988. The show was rated TV-G, and featured the voices of Brennan Thicke as Dennis and Phil Hartman as George Wilson.
Dennis the Menace film, 1993
In 1993, a Warner Bros. live-action Dennis the Menace film was released. Directed by Nick Castle and written by John Hughes (with characters written by Ketcham), the family comedy is rated PG. Mason Gamble as Dennis and Walter Matthau as George Wilson, the film offers a great 1990's Take on the original Dennis the Menace.
Dennis the Menace Strikes Again! film, 1998
Dennis Mitchel returned to the screen in 1998 with Dennis the Menace Strikes Again! Rated G, the film was directed by Charles T. Kanganis and written by Jeff Schechter (characters by Ketcham). Don Rickles portrays Mr. Wilson and Dennis is played by Justin Cooper.
Dennis, due to his civic-mindedness, was also used as a spokescharacter for organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, Unicef and the International Red Cross. His likeness was also used to promote two public-service messages through comic books, titled “Dennis Takes a Poke at Poison” and “Coping With Family Stress.”
Monterey, California is home to the original Dennis the Menace park. Bringing enjoyment to children all year-round, the park served as a model for several others across the country.
Of these and several other interpretations, one of Ketcham’s favorites was reportedly “Dennis and the Bible Kids,” which featured Bible stories as told by Dennis.