R.I.P. Gloria Henry, the mom on Dennis the Menace
The actress behind Mrs. Mitchell died one day following her 98th birthday.
It takes a lot of patience to be the mother of Dennis the Menace. Alice Mitchell made her debut in 1951, when Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace comic strip premiered in newspapers. The exploits of the lovable scamp was an immediate hit, because, by the end of the decade, Hollywood was calling for an adaptation.
The Dennis the Menace sitcom premiered in 1959, on the heels of Leave It to Beaver, which proved that a show centered around a cute and mischievous child could work in primetime. In fact, Dennis the Menace was green-lit specifically as a replacement for Beaver, after the Cleavers jumped networks. CBS found itself in need of a new kid.
Just seven years old when cast, Jay North brought Dennis to life. With an inexperienced kid at the core of the series, producers needed steady veterans around him. Enter Gloria Henry, who had been working for more than a decade in motion pictures.
Henry, a New Orleans native, had previously found herself somewhat pigeonholes in sports movies. She shared the screen with thoroughbreds in Sport of Kings (1947), and made another horse-racing flick a year later with Racing Luck (1948). She also did football (Triple Threat) and baseball (Kill the Umpire). In 1949, she landed a role in the romantic comedy Miss Grant Takes Richmond, which was headlined by a future TV icon — Lucille Ball.
Not long before Dennis the Menace booked her, Henry appeared in the premiere episode of Perry Mason, "The Case of the Restless Redhead."
Dennis the Menace ran for four years — a smash hit in those days. In its first three seasons, the sitcom ranked in television's Top 20. Herbert Anderson, who portrayed father Henry Mitchell, explained in a 1994 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, that he and Gloria relied on their real-world experience as parents to guide the writers.
"Many times, Gloria or I would read what Dennis was supposed to do and we'd say, 'If my kid did that, I'd whack him,'" Anderson said. "And the writers would cut that part out. They listened to us."
Following the end of the sitcom (Jay North was approaching puberty and Joseph Kearns, the actor behind Mr. Wilson, passed away during production) Henry found herself typecast as a sitcom mom. The roles dried up in the '60s and '70s. Nevertheless, she returned to small roles in the 1980s and continued to work in TV for decades. Her final role was playing a Pawnee senior citizen in a 2012 episode of Parks and Recreation, "Campaign Shake-Up," alongside fellow television legend Carl Reiner.
Henry died on April 3, one day after her birthday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She has just turned 98.