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Series / Dennis the Menace

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"Hey, Misssssssssster Willllllllllllllsonnnnnnnn!"
Dennis Mitchell, calling his 'best friend' Mr. Wilson, who generally mutters "Oh, no..." to himself in response.

A 1959–63 CBS sitcom, based on Hank Ketcham's comic strip of the same name. The cast includes Jay North as Dennis Mitchell; Herbert Anderson as his father, Henry; Gloria Henry as his mother, Alice; Joseph Kearns as George Wilson, Sylvia Field as Martha Wilson, and Gale Gordon as John Wilson.


  • Adaptation Deviation:
    • Dennis does not own Ruff the dog in the television version, while George Wilson acquires a terrier named Fremont.
    • George is a retired salesman in the series, while in the comics, he was a postman.
  • Adapted Out: Dennis' dog, Ruff, was never used in this series. Word of God states this was because the show's producers were unable to find a good enough dog actor.
  • Age Lift: The comic strip's Dennis is and has always been five years old. Jay North was eight years old at the start of this series and twelve by the end, although he was never allowed to act older than eight.
  • Animated Credits Opening: Featuring Dennis as an abstract tornado, knocking over paint cans and literally shaking the neighborhood houses.
  • As Himself: Spring Byington and Sandy Koufax
  • At Least I Admit It: In one episode, John Wilson is running against his rival neighbor Lucy Elkins for president of the local birdwatchers' society. The first mockingbird makes its nest in Mr. Wilson's yard, and he tries to shoo it away by getting rid of its nest. Meanwhile, Mrs. Elkins puts a tape recorder in Mr. Wilson's yard to record the song of a rare bird, and Dennis accidentally turns it on, with an accidental recording of her pretending to give her cat away which is played back later on, and Mr. Wilson admits that even though he tried to throw the mockingbirds' nest out as carefully as possible, Dennis and Tommy found an injured bird which they nursed to health, and they recall the good example Mr. Wilson set, with Mr. Timberlake admitting that mockingbirds are pesky, while Mrs. Elkins only wanted the position to increase her social status, and she doesn't even care much for birds, running for club president with a superficial motive to spite Mr. Wilson, because she doesn't care that much for birds as Mr. Wilson does.
  • Babysitting Episode: "Dennis Becomes a Babysitter", where Dennis gets to babysit one of the Wilson's relatives.
  • Baseball Episode: The episode "Dennis and The Dodger", where Mr. Quigley is named as the coach of the Pee-Wee baseball team. With Special Guest Star Sandy Koufax As Himself.
  • Birthday Episode: Three: "Alice's Birthday" (where Dennis causes a lot of mischief trying to get a present for his mother), "Dennis's Birthday" (where Mr. Wilson performs his magic act for Dennis' birthday party after learning a famed actress is going to be there) and "Where There's a Will" (where Mr. Wilson puts a watch for Dennis in his will and starts worrying that he doesn't have a lot of time left to live).
  • Bubblegum Popping: Played With in the episode "Dennis Has a Fling" - Dennis loses his bubble gum in Mr. Wilson's bagpipes. Mr. Wilson then plays the bagpipes, blowing a huge bubble out of one of pipes - the bubble bursts all over one side of his face.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Played with in "Dennis' Lovesick Friend", where Dennis seemingly manages to avoid playing house with Margaret, whose doll got damaged when Dennis tied it to a toy rocket and sent it into space with Margaret threatening to tell Dennis's parents about the incident unless he plays house with her. Mr. Wilson's Uncle Ned, who is in town, hires Dennis and a teenage boy whose girlfriend has broken up with him to work in Mr. Wilson's garden. Just when it looks like Dennis has given Margaret the slip by working with Uncle Ned, Alice and Henry, who saw Dennis strolling the sidewalk with Margaret, decide to invite Margaret over, and poor Dennis ends up playing house with Margaret, even though his parents never found out about the damaged doll.
  • Catchphrase: For Dennis: "Heyyyyyy, Misssssster Willllllllllllson!", "Good ol' Mr Wilson", "Hellooooo, Mr. Wilson!", "Jeepers!", and "I was only trying to help!" For Mr. Wilson: "Oh, Great Scott!" Lampshaded at the end of one episode when Dennis and Mr. Wilson briefly take on each other's roles when Alice comes downstairs and sees the ruined kitchen drapes:
    Mr. Wilson: I'm sorry, Alice, I was only trying to help.
    Dennis: Jeepers, Mr. Wilson! You sound just like me!
    Mr. Wilson: I do?! Jeepers!
    Dennis: Great Scott!
  • Chickenpox Episode: In "Junior Astronaut," Dennis wins a contest to meet an astronaut, but isn't able to go because he catches chickenpox.
  • Child Hater:
    • Mr. Merrivale, the grumpy florist, who frequently chases Dennis and Tommy out of his flower shop.
    • Downplayed with Mr. Finch, the pharmacist, who is considerably a bit more patient, whenever Dennis and Tommy aren't causing mischief in his pharmacy.
  • Christmas Episode: "The Christmas Story/Dennis & Christmas", "The Christmas Horse" and "The Fifteen-Foot Long Christmas Tree."
  • Continuity Nod: In "Dennis and the Rare Coin", while at the police station, Dennis claims he got ice cream the last time he went there, a reference to the episode "Dennis Runs Away", which was produced before, but aired after.
  • Cool Old Guy: George Wilson, in Dennis's eyes at least.
  • Cranky Neighbor: George Wilson, in everyone else's eyes, especially Mrs. Elkins.
  • Crossover:
    • Jay North made a guest appearence in an episode of The Donna Reed Show as Dennis. Apparently the Mitchells and the Stones live in the same neighborhood.
    • Spring Byington appears in one episode as herself visiting her niece, the mother of one of Dennis's friends. Although playing herself, Dennis refers to her by the name of her character from December Bride. (Which is somewhat ironic, as Jay North would grow up to resent the fact that everyone thought of him as Dennis, making it next to impossible to find post-Dennis acting work.)
  • Demoted to Extra: Joey, Dennis' best friend in the comics, gets pushed to the background on the show.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Dennis was actually more of a menace in some of the early episodes. For example, in the first episode, after his parents refuse to let him watch a movie, he has his friend Joey take his place for the babysitter and sneaks out to the theater, which ultimately results in Mr. Wilson getting arrested for armed robbery while checking in on the Mitchell's house. His antics were toned down considerably after a few episodes.
    • Also, in the first episode, it was pretty clear that the actors hadn't quite nailed their characters yet, especially with Dennis.
    • Plus, Joey was originally Dennis' best friend, like in the comics, but he was turned into a background extra by the end of the first season, with Tommy taking up his role.
  • Free-Range Children: The kids are constantly seen outside without parental supervision.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: George Wilson often asked for his nerve medicine, usually as a result of Dennis' antics.
  • I Am Spartacus: In Season 4's "The New Principal", Dennis's new principal, Mr. Spivey, puts him in detention after he is framed by Johnny Brady signing Dennis's name to a picture that Johnny drew; John Wilson, Mr. Finch the pharmacist, and Mr. Quigley the grocer come to the school claiming to be Henry Mitchell so they can convince the principal of Dennis's innocence. By the time Henry shows up, the principal dismisses all of them and Dennis gets to play in the baseball game.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The vast majority of episodes have Dennis' name in the title, describing what he is or does in the episode. A lot of the episodes that don't do the same thing with another character (usually Mr. Wilson). They use this less often in the later seasons, though.
  • Inept Aptitude Test: Dennis takes a standardized IQ test in school which reveals him to be a genius; but it turns out a wad of gum he left on the underside of the paper screwed up the scoring.
  • Last-Name Basis: George Wilson frequently addresses Henry as Mitchell, even though Henry works as an engineer, and George worked as a retired salesman in this version, in contrast to the comics version, where he was a postman.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Jay North always wore a striped shirt and overalls like comic strip Dennis for the first three seasons. For the fourth he was allowed to wear regular pants, but they were the same color as the overalls and he still wore the striped shirts.
  • Lucky Rabbit's Foot:
    • A good and bad luck variant in "The Lucky Rabbit's Foot". In it, Dennis has a lucky rabbit's foot which he believes will help him pass the test. With recent bad luck John Wilson has been having, Dennis offers to let him borrow the foot. Mr. Wilson, however, doesn't believe in such superstition and doesn't take the foot. Immediately thereafter, his bad luck continues when something jams his lawnmower, and he runs over his garden hose with the mower. Meanwhile, Mr. Wilson urges Dennis to trade his lucky rabbits' foot to him as an experiment to prove one is as good as another. When Dennis has the worthless one, he wants his original back. After Mr. Wilson and Henry squabble over trying to buy it, Dennis sees that the rabbits' feet aren't so lucky if they cause disagreement between Mr. Wilson and Henry.
    • In "The Lucky Piece", George offers Dennis a good luck coin instead of money for mowing the lawn. Alice and Martha get together and secretly make the good luck happen for Dennis to teach Mr. Wilson a lesson, with Dennis finding a compass and scout's pocketknife in a box of cookies, which Alice and Mrs. Wilson bought. The wives make arrangements for the malt shop to call Dennis and tell him that he won some free milkshakes which they paid for, and George offers to buy the lucky coin from Dennis, only to regret throwing it away when a hobo finds it and a ham falls out of a meat truck.
  • Maintain the Lie:
    • In one episode John Wilson fears a glamorous movie star will feel he is too old to write her life story, so he enlists Henry Mitchell to meet with her as him instead. Cue the hilarity when both Alice and Eloise come home early.
    • In another episode, John Wilson, faced with Eloise insisting that he do some chores on his day off, pretends to be sick to get some rest from Dennis. Unfortunately, Eloise insists that John goes to see a doctor, and after attempting to give the neighbors the slip to go fishing, he ends up in the hospital with Dennis as his roommate, who is having his tonsils removed.
  • Menace Decay: Like the comic strip, the first few episodes had Dennis being more of an actual menace then the innocent naive boy "just trying to help" that later episodes turned him into.
  • Misfortune Cookie: In "The Fortune Cookie", when the Mitchells and Wilsons open their fortune cookies, George receives a fortune that reads "Beware of tomorrow". Dennis comes over and offers Mr. Wilson some homemade fudge, which leaves his mouth stuck. A TV quiz show calls Mr. Wilson at home while his mouth is stuck; by the time his mouth is unstuck, the time expires for the quiz show. When a salesman comes over with a check, Tommy asks if Mr. Wilson will drop the check on the floor to see if it bounces, mentioning someone who makes rubber novelty checks. The offended salesman tries to leave with Mr. Wilson's coin collection, only to be stopped by a mean-looking guard dog named Tiny, which bites him in the pants, and Mr. Wilson recovers his collection. The next day, when Mr. Wilson decides to let Tiny have the fortune cookie, Dennis takes out the fortune, which reads "You are about to lead a dog's life", with Mr. Wilson groaning when Dennis believes that fortune was meant for Mr. Wilson.
  • Mouthy Kid: Seymour Williams, to John Wilson in the final season.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Dennis. Margaret, too - she was still pushing dolls around in a doll carriage and wanting Dennis to play "house" when her actress was twelve years old.
  • Papa Wolf: Deconstructed. In one episode, Dennis is dealing with a bully and comes home with a black-eye. His dad and Mr. Wilson encourage him to stand up for himself and fight back. They then end up worrying about having to deal with the bully's very angry father when Dennis gives him a black-eye in return. Things change, however, as it's revealed that the bully lied about a few things, such as saying that Dennis was a foot taller than him ("Look at the way his hair sticks out in back"), and conveniently left out the fact that he hit Dennis first. The bully's father then turned his anger on his own son upon discovering this.
  • Plot Allergy: In the episode "Wilson's Allergy," Mr. Wilson starts sneezing whenever he's around Dennis, but in the end he turns out to be allergic to a hair tonic that Dennis has secretly been using.
  • Pulled from Your Day Off: In the Season 4 episode "Wilson's Little White Lie", when John Wilson is about to have a day off, his wife wants him to spend the day doing home repairs, and when Dennis comes over, Mr. Wilson tells Dennis that he can't see him because he's feeling under the weather. This is further complicated when Mrs. Wilson insists that he goes to the doctor for an overdue check-up, which Mr. Wilson unsuccessfully tries to avoid, only for Mr. Wilson to end up staying in the hospital next to Dennis.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, after Joseph Kearns died suddenly in 1962, during the third season. As production of new episodes for the 1961-1962 season was still ongoing, the following changes took place over the next several months, continuing into the fall 1962 season:
    • Initially: Two scripts where Mr. Wilson was either non-essential to the story or did not appear were shot first, with his lines either being removed or rewritten for other characters.
    • The last six (6) episodes of Season 3: Gale Gordon is introduced as George's brother, John. George is away on business, settling an estate "out east." The bus at this point is warming up.
    • Starting with Season 4: George and Martha move from town, presumably "out east." (At this point, Sylvia Field, who played Mrs. Wilson, was let go.) With the bus now departed, there are only a few scattered "blink-and-you'll-miss-them" mentions of the Wilsons in the first few episodes of the new season, after which they are never referred to again.
  • Road-Sign Reversal: Dennis mistakenly believes the street sign at the corner is reversed, so he turns it, whereupon a swimming pool company goes to the wrong house and basically destroys Mr. Wilson's backyard.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story:
    • "Dennis and the Rare Coin"; Mr. Wilson pays $250 for a rare gold coin, and mistakenly gives it to Dennis, who uses it to make a wish at a water fountain. Mr. Wilson attempts to get the coin back and he gets arrested for it. The coin turned out to be a fake, and virtually worthless.
    • "The Stock Certificate", where Mr. Wilson gets the namesake item worth $500 and hides it in a phone book, which is later thrown away. Mr. Wilson spends the rest of the episode trying to get the certificate back, but it turns out Dennis already took out the certificate, using it to decorate his treehouse.
    • "Dennis' Allowance": Henry refuses to give Dennis an allowancenote  and tells him to earn the money himself, to teach him a lesson on the value of money. So Dennis and Tommy go through several business ideas (dog-washing, a golf course and a pet cemetary), before settling on an auction. The junk being auctioned off costs $10 to haul away, which ends up costing more than if Henry had just given Dennis the allowance.
    • "Dennis and the Picnic": While preparing to go on a picnic, Henry finds an envelope full of money in the gutter, and Mr. Wilson convinces him to turn it into the police station, an act which Dennis takes to the newspaper editors. The money was counterfeit.
    • "The Fifty-Thousandth Customer": Mr. Wilson spends the episode trying to win a special shopping spree at a store using advanced math. He makes a slight miscalculation and Dennis ends up winning instead.
    • "The Fifteen-Foot Christmas Tree": Henry, Dennis and Mr. Wilson go out to get a huge Christmas tree to replace the small one they bought. Throughout the episode, the tree nearly gets destroyed, but the ultimately manage to get it home safely. Then Mr. Wilson starts to prune the tree, ultimately destroying it anyway.
    • "The Treasure Chest": Mr. Wilson buys a treasure chest which he thinks contain valuable items. It doesn't, so he gives the chest to Dennis, who uses the contents to play pirates with his friends. Later, Mr. Wilson finds a treasure map, and he believes it to be real, and ropes several people into finding the treasure. It turns out Dennis had drawn the map while playing with his friends.
    • "The Little Judge": Mr. Wilson gets a fine and asks for a trial, which happened to be on the day that the children are running the court, complete with Dennis as the judge. Mr. Wilson holds a party for the kids, hoping to bribe them into declaring him "not guilty", and this actually works, until Dennis orders him to buy ice cream sundaes for all the kids, which ends up costing more than the fine did.
    • "Wilson's Second Childhood": Mr. Wilson spends the whole episode playing with the kids, hoping to get information for magazine article he was writing, taking notes along the way. At the end of the episode, Dennis accidentally burns up the notes while starting up a grill, forcing Mr. Wilson to spend another day with the kids.
    • "Dennis And The Hermit": Dennis meets a hermit, who claims to have fought in the Civil War with General Lee. When Mr. Wilson hears about this, he moves through heaven and earth trying to get the hermit's life story, culmintating in him chopping wood for several hours. When Mr. Wilson finally gets the story, the hermit reveals that the person he fought with was actually his wife, who was also named Lee.
    • "Wilson's Little White Lie": In an attempt to get Dennis not to bother him, Mr. Wilson pretends to be sick. Dennis tells this everyone else in town, and everyone believes that Mr. Wilson is really sick, and Wilson's house gets flooded with concerned visitors.
    • "My Four Boys": Mr. Wilson enters an essay contest, hoping to win a huge cash prize. However, one of the rules of the contest states that the entrants have to be parents, so Mr. Wilson pays Dennis and his friends to pretend to be his children. After loads of bribery and a visit by an angry motorist whose care was damaged by the kids, the judge of the contest drops by and reveals that the grand prize was a pair of shoes for each of the children.
    • "Aunt Emma Visits the Wilsons": And upon doing so, she takes an instant liking to Dennis, causing Mr. Wilson to fear that she would make Dennis her heir instead of him. So he spends the episode being unusually nice to Aunt Emma, while she spends most of her time hanging out with Dennis. In the end, all Dennis gets is a plastic sword... but Mrs. Wiilson ends up getting all the money.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Gale Gordon replaced Joseph Kearns as George Wilson's brother John for the final season after Kearns passed away. Oddly enough, Gordon resembles the newspaper image of George Wilson much more than Kearns did.
    • Although to be fair, John wasn't completely a clone of George. Being slightly younger, he was still working as a free-lance writer and not the cranky retiree that George was. John seemed to accept Dennis more as an equal, and even conspired with him in a few episodes. The characterizations of Martha and Eloise Wilson, on the other hand, were indistiguishable.
    • The two episodes filmed between Kearns' last episode and Gordon's first were obviously rewritten with two Suspiciously Similar Substitutes: Grocer Mr. Quigley coaches Dennis's Little League Team, and Uncle Ned - who previously was a health nut who drove George crazy with exercise and fitness - now is in such bad health that he suddenly gets exhausted as he prepares his flower garden for a neighborhood contest.
  • That Was the Reward: The episode "Dennis and the Fishing Rod" had Dennis trying to buy a fishing rod for his father. He tries to pay for it with a bill of Confederate money, but the merchant won't take the bill since he thinks it's worthless. Later on, the merchant learns from Mr. Wilson that the Confederate bill was worth a lot of money.
  • Third-Person Person: Opie the Fix-it Man in "Dennis and the TV Set."
  • Umpteenth Customer: An episode revolves around Mr. Wilson trying to be this to win a shopping spree.