In a time when television was broadcast in glorious black and white, a young child actor Jay North played the lovable little troublemaker “Dennis the Menace.” The show, based on the cartoon by Hank Ketcham, ran from 1959 thru 1963 and made Mr. North a star.
Sadly, like so many before and after him, Mr. North was not able to — or, some say “allowed to” — make that transition from child actor to grown-up thespian, a fact that still seems to sting the now-65-year-old Mr. North.
At the Hollywood Show, an autograph convention in Los Angeles, the former child star discussed his time as everyone’s favorite scamp and what he did after his time bothering Mr. Wilson came to an end — which surprisingly included stints as a corrections officer and in the military.
Question: How old were you when you were on “Dennis the Menace”?
Answer: I was 7 years old. The show ran for four years between 1959 and 1963. We did a 146 half-hour black-and-white episodes.
Q: Is it weird to you that all these year later people still want to talk about the show?
A: It’s very ….
I get a very warm feeling that I still have fans from all over the world. Fans that remember and have warm memories of our show. It makes me feel good inside that people still love us and remember us.
Q: When you play such an iconic character, is it hard to get Hollywood to see you as anything but as Dennis?
A: Yes, I was typecast. I worked for a couple years after “Dennis the Menace,” but into my teen years, early twenties, the industry pretty much shut its doors on me. Because I was typecast as Dennis the Menace. It was what it was.
It’s nice to be remembered for something as wonderful as that little boy.
Q: What did you do after your run in Hollywood?
A: I was in the military. I worked in the health food industry for a number of years. For the past 20 years I’ve worked as a correctional officer for the Florida department of corrections.
Q: Have any criminals ever recognized you as Jay North the guy who played Dennis the Menace?
A: Oh, absolutely. Lot of the inmates that I’ve guarded remember the show. Many of them grew up watching the show. Some the first time out, others in reruns.
Q: What is your favorite memory from working on the show?
A: My favorite memory was working with all the wonderful cast members like Jeannie Russell, who played Margaret, Gloria Henry, who played my mom [and] Herbert Anderson, who played my dad. Joseph Kearns and Gale Gordon both played Mr. Wilson.
I have wonderful memories of working with these wonderful castmates. It was a magical time.
Q: What did you think of the big-screen remake they did of “Dennis the Menace” in the 1990s?
A: I didn’t see any of the remakes. I was in the process of moving to Florida at the time when they came out with the movie in 1993. So I didn’t get an opportunity to see it.
Q: What is the strangest thing you have ever been asked to sign?
A: I can’t think of anything I’ve been asked to sign that I would consider strange.
Q: How often do you get to reunite with your castmates and meet the fans?
A: We get together once or twice a year to do these singing conventions. I still see Jeannie and Gloria as often as I can get out here to Hollywood. We do signings on the East Coast as well. We try to get together as much as we can.
Q: What is the farthest distance someone has ever traveled to come meet you at one of these conventions?
A: People have traveled from all over the United States to come and visit with us ask us to sign an autograph for them. It’s just a very warm feeling inside that people still love us. We are very blessed to be loved after all these years.
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