10 Things You Might Not Know About Dennis the Menace

King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

Beginning in 1951, cartoonist Hank Ketcham invited newspaper readers to feel a little bit better about the behavior of their own children. Dennis the Menace featured the misadventures of a five-and-a-half-year-old boy with a wild streak who is prone to calamitous encounters with delicate furnishings, pets, and his long-suffering neighbor Mr. Wilson. Adapted into movies and television, Ketcham’s character has become the reference point for the perils of hyperactivity. Check out some facts about Dennis’s real-life doppelgänger, the strip's unfortunate attempt to address race relations, and how Dennis tried to soothe tensions with the Soviet Union.


As Dennis lore goes, Ketcham was pursuing a career in cartooning in 1950 when his first wife, Alice, once interrupted him to share the news that their four-year-old son Dennis had just demolished his bedroom by playing with the fecal matter found in his underpants. Declaring him a “menace,” Alice stormed out, leaving Ketcham to ponder the fictional consequences of such a tiny terror. Within five months, 16 newspapers were printing Dennis the Menace, a number that would eventually grow to over 1000.


In a curious case of correlating creations, Ketcham’s Dennis debuted at virtually the same instant another Dennis the Menace was being unveiled in England. The UK Dennis was part of a weekly magazine called Beano and featured an older boy who was less of an accidental troublemaker and more of a highly-focused and intentioned one. To avoid confusion, the UK Dennis was later retitled Dennis the Menace and Gnasher. (Gnasher is his dog.)


Some two decades into the strip, Ketcham decided to contemporize Dennis’s neighborhood by introducing a black character named Jackson. Although Ketcham’s design was alarmingly stereotypical, he attempted to incorporate messages of tolerance into the strip, with Dennis exclaiming he has a “race problem” with Jackson because “he can run faster than me.” However well-intentioned Ketcham’s choices, readers were not happy about the caricature. In St. Louis, protesters threw rocks and bottles into newspaper windows; in Detroit and Little Rock, Arkansas, crowds gathered to complain. Ketcham apologized and retired Jackson.  


Many cartoonists look forward to having their strips collected in paperback because the book royalties can make for an appreciable boost in their income. Despite having sold millions of copies of Dennis strips, Ketcham took them off the market because he felt the paperbacks weren’t reproducing his artwork properly. “I backed out of the paperback business because the paper was so cheesy and the reproduction was so bad and the space allotted was ill-suited,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. “I spend too much time on my graphics not to have them treated a little better.”


By and large, Dennis is an affably rambunctious kid—prone to making a mess, but generally not a total delinquent. That wasn’t entirely true in the early strips, when Ketcham depicted Dennis inciting physical fights between adults, tying swan necks into knots, hitting other kids with a shovel and laughing about it, and filling his sock with sand to use as a makeshift bludgeon. It wasn't until a few years into the strip that Dennis settled down.


In 1959, Ketcham and his wife were asked by the U.S. State Department to go on a tour of Russia as a part of a “humor exchange program.” With its modern, middle America depictions of appliances and cars, the strip was a perfect talking point to critique Communist regimes. The U.S. government also wanted Ketcham to doodle anything he saw as a kind of cartoonist subversive. But Ketcham was so paranoid about being caught by Soviet supporters that he wound up drawing over whatever sketches might have been useful. A U.S. government employee later told Ketcham they hadn't bothered sending any more cartoonists on missions.


Writer/director Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) was a regular reader of Dennis the Menace. Following the success of 1990’s Home Alone (which Hughes wrote) that featured a booby-trapping kid named Kevin, producers were eager to try and replicate its success with a feature adaptation of the strip. Ketcham went with Warner Bros. on the condition Hughes wrote the script. “He’d been reading it for years,” Ketcham said. “We spent a lot of time talking about the characters and I gave him all the books I have on Dennis.” Dennis the Menace, with Walter Matthau as Mr. Wilson, was released in 1993.


Dennis spent an astounding 30 years as a mascot for the Dairy Queen frozen treat chain, appearing in commercials and on packaging before the franchise decided he was losing his appeal among young consumers. He retired from ice cream endorsements in 2001.


A three-foot-tall Dennis statue erected in 1986 in Monterey, California became the target of a troublemaker in 2006, when an unknown person (or persons) stole the tribute from its perch in a city park known as Dennis the Menace Playground. It was missing for nearly 10 years before turning up in Florida—at least, that’s what authorities believed. A scrap metal company found it among a pile of material to be melted down and assumed it was the statue from Monterey: Dennis curators later discovered it was actually another statue that had been stolen from a Florida hospital. The Monterey statue remains at large.


Ketcham’s son may have outgrown his bedroom-destroying habits, but a series of misfortunes led to a life far more chaotic than his cartoon counterpart. Expelled from boarding school, Dennis Ketcham served in Vietnam and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He and his father reportedly had little contact prior to the elder Ketcham’s death in 2001.

The cartoonist once commented he had some regrets about naming his creation after Dennis, saying it “confused” his son. Talking with People in 1993, Dennis said he wished his father “could have used something other than my childhood for his ideas.”

Fans Think the Spider-Man: Far From Home Trailer Hints at Iron Man's Death

© 2018 - Marvel Studios
© 2018 - Marvel Studios

Marvel fans are seriously concerned for Iron Man. While Tony Stark is one of the few Avengers we know survived Thanos's snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the new trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home seems to imply that the sarcasm-prone superhero might not make it out of Avengers: Endgame alive.

The detail in question comes from the first Far From Home movie trailer, which features Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) carrying a large check from the Stark Relief Foundation.

The panic regarding Stark’s fate is over the signature on the check—which belongs to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the co-founder of the foundation. Fans became concerned when they saw that Stark hadn’t signed the check, with many jumping to the conclusion that Stark wasn’t able to sign the check himself because he had died at some point during the events of Avengers: Endgame. While it’s not confirmed whether Far From Home happens after Infinity War or Endgame, fans aren't willing to take any chances.

A few in-the-know viewers pointed out that a relief foundation is not the same as a memorial foundation, and that the organization was most likely set up for Stark industries, not for a deceased Tony Stark. As Potts was named the CEO of Stark Industries in Iron Man 2, it would make sense that she is the one signing the checks. These are valid points, but anxious MCU fans won't rest easy until they know that Stark is alive and well.

While Spider-Man: Far From Home doesn't arrive in theaters until July 5, 2019, Marvel fans will get the answers to at least some of their key questions when Avengers: Endgame hits theaters on April 26, 2019.

10 Fierce Facts About Jon Bernthal

Chuck Zlotnick, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Chuck Zlotnick, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Though the Marvel vigilante known as the Punisher has been portrayed by several actors including Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane, it’s Jon Bernthal who has left the biggest impression. The onetime The Walking Dead star has won over critics and audiences with his soulful performance as Frank Castle, a war veteran who grapples with his post-traumatic stress disorder by obliterating criminals.

For season 2 of The Punisher, an original Netflix series premiering on January 18, Castle is up against a fundamentalist group that embraces their right to bear arms; lurking in the margins is Jigsaw (Ben Barnes), a fellow soldier with a vendetta against Castle.

If the show has you curious for more information on the man behind the skull insignia, check out our round-up of facts about the Washington, D.C.-born actor, who has a reason for having such a pugnacious nose: He has broken it 14 times .

1. He nearly wound up in prison himself.

Jon Bernthal, whose father was a corporate lawyer (and now chair of the board of directors for the Humane Society), enjoyed a privileged upbringing in Washington, D.C. where he attended Sidwell Friends, the same private school that counts Chelsea Clinton and Sasha and Malia Obama among its alumni. But according to Bernthal, his preppy exterior masked a violent streak.

As a kid, Bernthal got into fights, sometimes with weapons. Much later, when he was in his 30s, a run-in with someone who was harassing Bernthal while the actor was out walking his dog led to a fight that nearly landed him in prison. In a 2017 interview with Esquire, Bernthal said he hit the man, who was following him home, and was brought in for questioning when the man hit his head on the pavement and was slow to regain consciousness.

“If that guy doesn’t wake up,” the cops told him, “you’re going away for life.”

Fortunately, the man recovered. Bernthal has limited the off-screen violence ever since.

2. He studied acting in Russia.

Bernthal became interested in acting in high school and was later accepted into Harvard's master’s in dramatic arts program. Before that, he was encouraged by his acting teacher, Alma Becker, to try out for the Moscow Art Theatre School. Bernthal went to Russia and was accepted into the school’s program.

"I absolutely fell in love with Russian culture, Russian people,” he later said. "I felt as an actor, there’s a real respect for the arts there that I don’t necessarily think too many of my peers at the time in America had.” As a result, Bernthal can speak fluent Russian. He also sports a tattoo of Becker’s name on his right wrist.

3. He almost punched out Oliver Stone.

Jon Bernthal in The Punisher
Cara Howe, Netflix

Years of scraping by as an actor were followed by a few breaks for Bernthal, including a part in director Oliver Stone’s 2006 feature World Trade Center. The famously temperamental Stone allegedly told Bernthal that his takes were subpar and that he was “vain.” Bernthal, who had not yet sworn off fistfights, replied that, "You might be Oliver Stone, but I will beat your f***ing a** right here on this set. In front of everybody here, I will beat your a**."

Stone wandered off. Nicolas Cage, who was starring in the film, was struck by the fact that Bernthal would stand up to the mercurial director. “Wow, man,” Cage told him. “There was adversity and you threw more adversity at it.” Bernthal said he and Stone later patched things up and the two became friendly.

4. He was once replaced by Andy Samberg.

With his feature film career still developing, Bernthal was excited to get a role in 2009’s I Love You, Man, starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. Bernthal played Rudd’s brother, but the familial attitude did not extend to the set. Bernthal said he was largely ignored by the cast (no, he had not threatened to beat anyone up on this set). He began to sense he might not be around much longer. After one day of rehearsal, he was fired and replaced by Andy Samberg. Fortunately, The Walking Dead came along not long after. Bernthal played Shane, one of the survivors of a zombie-infested wasteland, for two seasons.

5. His dog enjoyed peeing on Ben Stiller’s trailer.

Following parts in little-seen films like 2002’s Mary/Mary and 2004’s Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding, Bernthal got a glimpse of a major Hollywood production with 2009’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Bernthal played Al Capone opposite Ben Stiller’s hapless night watchman. In 2017, Bernthal told The A.V. Club that his dog, Boss, had a habit of urinating all over the side of Stiller’s trailer on the set. “I always would try to get him to not do it, but he did it anyway,” the actor said.

6. He starred in a sitcom.

Bernthal’s brooding persona is not seemingly one that would lend itself to a sitcom, but he nonetheless wound up doing one. For The Class, a 2006-2007 CBS series, Bernthal appeared in an ensemble comedy about a group of classmates who rekindle their friendship 20 years after meeting in the third grade. (His co-stars included Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.) It lasted just one season.

“I remember we took a private jet to Vegas and [director] Jimmy Burrows sat us down and said, ‘Look, I’m going to tell you guys the same thing I told the cast of Friends,’” he recalled in 2017. “'This is the last time you will ever go to a casino where you won’t get mobbed by fans. And he was right about Friends, but he was simply not right about us.”

7. He’s related to pro wrestler Kurt Angle.

Jon Bernthal in The Walking Dead
Gene Page, AMC

To Bernthal, Olympic gold medalist wrestler and WWE performer Kurt Angle is “Uncle Kurt.” Bernthal married Angle’s niece, Erin Angle, in 2010, making Bernthal Kurt’s nephew-in-law. Bernthal attended at least one WWE event to see Angle in the ring in 2017.

8. Tom Holland helped him land The Punisher.

Bernthal and actor Tom Holland were both appearing in the 2017 film Pilgrimage, a medieval action drama about clergymen transporting an ancient relic through Rome, when the two were both up for Marvel live-action roles as the Punisher and Spider-Man, respectively. Bernthal helped Holland by reading lines off-camera for an audition type; Holland acted onscreen in a similar video for Punisher producers.

9. He’s not that enamored with Marvel.

While many actors are dedicated fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bernthal is not among them. “I got respect for those people,” he told Esquire. “But I don’t feel that way. I just don’t. It’s nothing against what they’re doing. That’s not what I watch.”

Still, landing The Punisher created a sense of responsibility for Bernthal—not only for comic fans, but for members of the military who often adorn their weaponry or gear with the character’s skull iconography. “He means a lot to people, not only the comic book fans, who this character really belongs to, but to members of law enforcement and the military,” Bernthal told Variety in 2017. “He means something to guys who’ve gone to fight and have died for this country with that Punisher skull on their body armor.”

10. He’s joining The Sopranos.

'Punisher' season 2 star Jon Bernthal is photographed during a public appearance
Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

The same week season 2 of The Punisher debuted, it was announced that Bernthal would be appearing in The Many Saints of Newark, The Sopranos feature film prequel co-written and produced by David Chase. The movie will feature several of the series' characters as they navigate the ethnic tension and riots of 1960s Newark. Bernthal’s specific role has yet to be disclosed.