Here’s What Happened to ‘Dennis the Menace’ Star Jay North — His Journey Was a Painful One

Sixty years ago, actor Jay North was in the midst of starring as young Dennis Mitchell on the Classic TV sitcom Dennis the Menace, which was, at the time, shooting its second season. His mother, Dorothy, wrote a guest column in the New York Daily News in which she expressed that her one hope was that her son would grow up to be a normal, happy youngster; that fame wouldn’t really touch him. Sadly, things didn’t go that way.

“I never really got the education I should have gotten,” a bitter Jay admitted to The Post-Star Gazette in 1988. “You’re totally cushioned on a soundstage. You never see ordinary kids. They don’t know how to react to you when they do see you, so you have a very strained relationship with kids your own age. In this business as a child performer, you’re so brainwashed and so geared to pleasing the adults around you. They program you. They tell you you’re famous. And you don’t realize it’s all going to end.”

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Author, performer and pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, who has been friends with the former child actor for the past 25 years, points out, “I love Jay as a human being and as a friend. I’m enormously fond of him. But he is the product of a parent who didn’t know how to parent. A parent who sold their child’s soul for money. His mother abdicated her responsibilities as a mother and was not there on the set to protect him. She gave that responsibility to greedy relatives who used him for money.”

Such is the backdrop of Dennis the Menace, which originally ran from 1959 to 1963 (and is currently airing on the Antenna TV network). Based on the newspaper comic strip created by Hank Ketchum, the character of Dennis is described as a good-natured kid who inadvertently finds himself in trouble pretty much all the time, particularly with next door neighbor George (“Good Old Mr. Wilson”) Wilson. Starring alongside Jay are Herbert Anderson and Gloria Henry as Dennis’ parents, Henry and Alice; Joseph Kearns as Mr. George Wilson and, then, after the actor’s death, Gale Gordon as his brother, John Wilson.

All these years later, the show remains as much a delight to watch as it always was, although, as noted above, its making was anything but delightful for Jay. While things have improved over the past couple of decades, Hollywood history is filled with tales of young actors who have either been abused and abandoned by the system, other examples being Anissa Jones from Family Affair and Rusty Hamer from Make Room for Daddy, whose ultimate solution to their pain came in the form of suicide. Jay didn’t get that far, but he admits that he came close, his scars running deeply.

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