Jay North Turns 65: Inside The ‘Dennis The Menace’ Star’s Unhappy Life As A Child Star

Jay North of Dennis the Menace turned 65

Jay North has turned 65. The original Dennis the Menace star was born August 3, 1951, and many fans and friends, including actress Annette O’Toole, wished him birthday greetings on social media.

Jay North left show business decades ago. In fact, because he hasn’t been in the public eye for so long, North has regularly been the subject of death rumors. Fans are happy to know Jay North is alive and well and celebrating a milestone birthday.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Jay North talked about the incessant death rumors that he had to deal with over the years.

”Some kook called the wire services and spread a malicious rumor that I had died in a doctor’s office,” North said in 1988. ”My [ex-wife’s father] heard it on the radio and they called all upset. And my old friend Jon Provost, who played Timmy on Lassie, he heard about it and called. It’s been awful.”

Jay North landed the lead role as rambunctious Dennis Mitchell on the CBS sitcom, Dennis the Menace, in 1959 when he was just 7-years-old. The show was based on Hank Ketchum’s popular comic strip of the same name, and North became an instant child star.

Unfortunately, when his little boy cuteness started to wear off, Jay struggled to find acting jobs. As a teen, North landed small guest roles on shows like My Three Sons and The Lucy Show, and he even voiced the Bam Bam Rubble character on the animated 1970s series, The Pebbles and Bam Bam Show. But he didn’t have a backup career plan, and by the late ’80s, he made ends meet with investments and a job at a health food store.

”I never really got the education I should have gotten,” North told the Sentinel. ”You’re totally cushioned from reality. You’re sheltered on a soundstage. You never see ordinary kids.”

Indeed, even in his heyday as a child star, Jay North’s life was far from idyllic. According to an article published by the Baltimore Sun in 1993, Jay revealed that he was abused emotionally and physically by his aunt and uncle, who served as his caretakers while his mother, Dorothy North, worked full time. North said his caretakers demanded perfection on the Dennis the Menace set and that he was constantly battered and constantly belittled by them.

“If it took me more than one or two takes, I would be threatened and then whacked,” Jay said.

Jay also revealed that he was forced to have his dark blonde hair bleached platinum every two weeks during the four years that he starred on the show, and that his aunt kept him sequestered from the rest of the Dennis the Menace cast. In fact, Jay was forced to eat lunch alone in a dressing room.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, by the time he was in his late 30s, Jay North sought therapy at the urging of his childhood pal, Paul Petersen (The Donna Reed Show), after he went through another rough patch in which he secluded himself in his apartment for two years. When he did go out, North took pleasure in trying to run other drivers off the road and picking fights at stoplights. During an appearance on Sally Jessy Raphael’s talk show in 1989, North said he became obsessed with the horror flick Village of the Damned and saw it thirty times in one year.

“I wanted to be one of those evil little kids whose eyes glowed because I wanted to control the adults and make them do the horrible things to themselves,” North revealed.

Paul Petersen told the blog Pop Culture Addict that it was the Sally Jessy Raphael appearance that brought Jay North’s story—and the plight of other child stars— to the forefront.

“Jay North’s story … gave us a chance to finally start educating the country about how unfair and exploited the rules for children are in the entertainment business,” Petersen said. “It took someone like a Jay North to finally tell the truth in public instead of hiding all these skeletons in the closet.”

Petersen said after the suicide death of former child star Rusty Hamer in 1990, he noticed that many former child stars were in trouble, and he wanted to help.

“My first call was to Jay North, who also knew Rusty, and I said ‘Jay, if you don’t get help that is going to be you,'” Petersen said. “Jay was overweight and deeply bitter and he finally agreed to let him find help for him. I reached out to [his former co-star] Jean Russell and between the two of us we were able to get him into therapy and he rather quickly turned the corner.”

Take a look at the video below to see Jay North talking about his hellish experience as a child star.

[Image via CBS Publicity Photo, Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons]