Joseph Kearns

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Joseph Kearns
Veteran character actor Joseph Kearns.jpg
Joseph Sherrard Kearns

(1907-02-12)February 12, 1907
DiedFebruary 17, 1962(1962-02-17) (aged 55)
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills
Alma mater University of Utah
Years active1930–1962

Joseph Sherrard Kearns [1] (February 12, 1907 – February 17, 1962) was an American actor, who is best remembered for his role as George Wilson ("Mr. Wilson") in the CBS television series Dennis the Menace from 1959 until his death in 1962, and for providing the voice of the Doorknob in the 1951 animated Disney film, Alice in Wonderland .

CBS is an American English language commercial broadcast television and radio network that is a flagship property of CBS Corporation. The company is headquartered at the CBS Building in New York City with major production facilities and operations in New York City and Los Angeles.

<i>Dennis the Menace</i> (1959 TV series)

Dennis the Menace was an American sitcom based on the Hank Ketcham comic strip of the same name. It preceded The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evenings on CBS from October 1959 to July 1963. The series starred Jay North as Dennis Mitchell; Herbert Anderson as his father, Henry; Gloria Henry as his mother, Alice; Joseph Kearns as George Wilson; Gale Gordon as George's brother, John Wilson; Sylvia Field as George's wife, Martha Wilson; and Sara Seegar as John's wife, Eloise Wilson.

<i>Alice in Wonderland</i> (1951 film) 1951 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions

Alice in Wonderland is a 1951 American animated musical fantasy-adventure film produced by Walt Disney Productions and based on the Alice books by Lewis Carroll. The 13th release of Disney's animated features, the film premiered in London on July 26, 1951 and in New York City on July 28, 1951. The film features the voices of Kathryn Beaumont as Alice, Sterling Holloway as the Cheshire Cat, Verna Felton as the Queen of Hearts, and Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter.


Early life

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kearns moved with his family to California when he was very young. His mother was Cordelia M. Kearns (née Peterson; 1877–1962), a concert pianist, from whom Kearns derived his love of music. [1] He and his family were devout Mormons, whose ancestors were Mormon pioneers. [2] His first experience of acting was in 1916 when he joined 'The Rising Generation", a vaudeville troupe of eleven children that toured for 14 months. [1] He studied at the University of Utah, teaching a course in theatrical make-up to fund his tuition. After graduating from college, he briefly tried his hand at wool buying and worked for his father for a year. Kearns traveled the West as a representative of Howell, Jones and Donnell of Boston. His wool-buying career came to an abrupt end when Kearns purchased five boxcars full of black wool from a breed called Karakul for $8,000. The problem was that black wool could not be dyed and no one knew how to use it in those days. After this fiasco, Kearns gladly gave up the wool business and pursued a show business career. [1]

Salt Lake City State capital city in Utah, United States

Salt Lake City is the capital and the most populous municipality of the U.S. state of Utah. With an estimated population of 190,884 in 2014, the city is the core of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, which has a population of 1,153,340. Salt Lake City is further situated within a larger metropolis known as the Salt Lake City–Ogden–Provo Combined Statistical Area, a corridor of contiguous urban and suburban development stretched along a 120-mile (190 km) segment of the Wasatch Front, comprising a population of 2,423,912. It is one of only two major urban areas in the Great Basin.

Utah A state of the United States of America

Utah is a state in the western United States. It became the 45th state admitted to the U.S. on January 4, 1896. Utah is the 13th-largest by area, 31st-most-populous, and 10th-least-densely populated of the 50 United States. Utah has a population of more than 3 million according to the Census estimate for July 1, 2016. Urban development is mostly concentrated in two areas: the Wasatch Front in the north-central part of the state, which contains approximately 2.5 million people; and Washington County in Southern Utah, with over 160,000 residents. Utah is bordered by Colorado to the east, Wyoming to the northeast, Idaho to the north, Arizona to the south, and Nevada to the west. It also touches a corner of New Mexico in the southeast.

California State of the United States of America

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents, California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second and fifth most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.



Kearns joined the staff of radio station KSL in Salt Lake City in 1930 remaining there until 1936 when he moved to Los Angeles. Kearns began his acting career in radio in the 1930s (playing the Crazyquilt Dragon in the serial The Cinnamon Bear ), becoming active during the 1940s, with appearances on the shows The Adventures of Sam Spade , Burns and Allen , The Whistler , and dozens of other shows. On Suspense , he was almost a mainstay, heard regularly as the host "The Man in Black" in the early years, announcing many episodes in the later run, and playing supporting and occasional lead roles in hundreds of shows throughout the series' tenure in Hollywood, from judges to kindly old-timers to cowards. [ citation needed ]He also appeared on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes , playing various different characters including Professor Moriarty and even Dr. Watson. [3]

<i>The Cinnamon Bear</i>

The Cinnamon Bear is an old-time radio program produced by Transco, based in Hollywood, California. The series was specifically designed to be listened to six days a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

<i>The Adventures of Sam Spade</i>

The Adventures of Sam Spade, Detective was a radio series based loosely on the private detective character Sam Spade, created by writer Dashiell Hammett for The Maltese Falcon. The show ran for 13 episodes on ABC in 1946, for 157 episodes on CBS in 1946-1949, and finally for 51 episodes on NBC in 1949-1951. The series starred Howard Duff as Sam Spade and Lurene Tuttle as his secretary Effie, and took a considerably more tongue-in-cheek approach to the character than the novel or movie. The announcer was Dick Joy.

Burns and Allen American comedic duo

Burns and Allen was an American comedy duo consisting of George Burns and his wife, Gracie Allen. They worked together as a successful comedy team that entertained vaudeville, film, radio, and television audiences for over forty years.

Kearns played Ed, the security guard for Jack Benny's underground money vault, on The Jack Benny Program . The running gag was that Benny had kept Ed on duty at the vault's door so long that the guard was not conversant with current events. When Benny informed him that "The War (World War II) had ended," Ed asked whether the "North" or the "South" had won, assuming that the American Civil War was the war Benny referred to. [ citation needed ] He played numerous parts on the Benny show, including an IRS Agent. ('NO ONE yells at a tax collector, Mr. Benny!"). He appeared in regular roles on The Mel Blanc Show (as the cantankerous father of Mel's on-air girl friend, Betty, played by Mary Jane Croft) and The Harold Peary Show as Old Doc Yak-Yak. He also played numerous comedic parts on Judy Canova's radio show, including her "dumb boyfriend", Lukey. [4]

Jack Benny American comedian, vaudeville performer, and radio, television, and film actor

Jack Benny was an American comedian, vaudevillian, radio, television and film actor, and violinist. Recognized as a leading 20th-century American entertainer, Benny often portrayed his character as a miser, playing his violin badly, and claiming to be 39 years of age, regardless of his actual age.

<i>The Jack Benny Program</i> radio-TV comedy series

The Jack Benny Program, starring Jack Benny, is a radio-TV comedy series that ran for more than three decades and is generally regarded as a high-water mark in 20th-century American comedy.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Film career

Kearns made his film debut in Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951). He was the voice of the Doorknob in Disney's animated film, Alice in Wonderland (1951). Kearns appeared in other movies, making his final film appearance as the crime photographer in Anatomy of a Murder (1959). [4]

<i>Hard, Fast and Beautiful</i> 1951 film by Ida Lupino

Hard, Fast and Beautiful is a 1951 American drama film directed by Ida Lupino and starring Claire Trevor, loosely based on the 1930 novel American Girl by sports fiction author John R. Tunis, which itself was an unflattering and thinly veiled fictionalization of tennis star Helen Wills Moody.

Walt Disney American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer

Walter Elias Disney was an American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer. A pioneer of the American animation industry, he introduced several developments in the production of cartoons. As a film producer, Disney holds the record for most Academy Awards earned by an individual, having won 22 Oscars from 59 nominations. He was presented with two Golden Globe Special Achievement Awards and an Emmy Award, among other honors. Several of his films are included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

<i>Anatomy of a Murder</i> 1959 film by Otto Preminger

Anatomy of a Murder is a 1959 American courtroom drama crime film produced and directed by Otto Preminger. The screenplay by Wendell Mayes was based on the novel of the same name written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker under the pen name Robert Traver. Voelker based the novel on a 1952 murder case in which he was the defense attorney.


Joseph Kearns (right) with the cast of Dennis the Menace (1960) Dennis the Menace cast 1960.jpg
Joseph Kearns (right) with the cast of Dennis the Menace (1960)

On television, Kearns reprised his radio roles on The Jack Benny Program and also appeared with Eve Arden and Richard Crenna in Our Miss Brooks (1953–55), first as Assistant Superintendent Michaels and later (in eight episodes) as Superintendent Stone, a role that he had played on radio. [4]

Eve Arden actress

Eve Arden was an American film, radio, stage, and television actress, and comedienne. She performed in leading and supporting roles for nearly six decades.

Richard Crenna American actor, director, producer

Richard Donald Crenna was an American motion picture, television, and radio actor and occasional television director.

<i>Our Miss Brooks</i> television series

Our Miss Brooks is an American sitcom starring Eve Arden as a sardonic high-school English teacher. It began as a radio show broadcast on CBS from 1948 to 1957. When the show was adapted to television (1952–56), it became one of the medium's earliest hits. In 1956, the sitcom was adapted for the big screen in the film of the same name.

He appeared on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show a total of 11 times, Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet a total of 16 times, I Love Lucy , My Little Margie , Perry Mason , I Married Joan , December Bride , It's a Great Life , Angel , Gunsmoke , and General Electric Theater . Kearns played Fred on Professional Father . In 1959 Kearns appeared as criminologist Edward Langley in the Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Perjured Parrot". [4]

Dennis the Menace

Kearns' final role was as George Wilson, the grouchy, cantankerous neighbor in CBS's Dennis the Menace based on the comic strip by Hank Ketcham. After his death, Kearns was replaced in the cast by Gale Gordon, who played George Wilson's brother John. Kearns and Gordon had worked together prior to Dennis the Menace, on the old radio show The Cinnamon Bear . [4]

In the last episode that aired before Kearns' death, episode 89 entitled "Where There's a Will", the story dealt with Mr. Wilson making out a will and explaining that Dennis would inherit his gold watch when he dies. The last episode Kearns filmed was titled "The Man Next Door", episode 100, and shown on May 6, 1962. Sylvia Field as George's wife, Martha, remained for a few more broadcasts, with John Wilson appearing in episode 103, "John Wilson's Cushion", which aired on May 27, 1962. There were references to George being 'back east' in subsequent shows. While Kearns was still filming episodes, the show introduced Edward Everett Horton as George's Uncle Ned, beginning with episode 90. Horton subsequently appeared twice more. In season four, Field was replaced in the cast by Sara Seegar, playing John Wilson's wife, Eloise. [ citation needed ]

Personal life

Kearns never married nor had any children. Describing himself as a night owl who hated to get up early in the morning, Kearns enjoyed cooking, reading novels, writing, traveling, going to the movies, and playing cards in his spare time. He was a member of the exclusive Societe des Gentilhommes Chefs de Cuisine, a club for the gentlemen chefs. The members traded original recipes with other club members. Kearns also wrote plays and scripts for his various radio shows. His favorite hobby was playing the organ. Kearns, who was musically trained by his mother, had played the pipe organ for a Los Angeles theatre in the 1930s. Kearns purchased a Hammond organ and installed it in a studio apartment he designed and built in the 1940s. [5] He later purchased a larger 26 rank Wurlizter organ that had been designed for Warner Brothers in 1929. He then designed and built a soundproof 2-1/2 story home around the organ. Kearns delighted in playing the organ for his guests. [1] A Republican, he supported Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election [6] .


Kearns suffered a cerebral hemorrhage [7] on February 11, 1962, during the third season of Dennis the Menace. He was hospitalized but never regained consciousness and died on February 17, 1962, five days after he had turned 55. He was buried at the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Selected filmography

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Menaced by Dennis", TV Guide (om the July 15–21, 1961_,; retrieved September 28, 2011.
  2. Radio Spirits. "Joseph Kearns". Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  3. Gordon, Shirley (June 3, 1945). "Microphones Are His Meat". Radio Life.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Joseph Kearns on IMDb
  5. Buchanan, Joan (March 23, 1947). "Kearns Carries On". Radio Life.
  6. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
  7. "New menace for Dennis". Broadcasting. February 26, 1962. Retrieved July 2, 2014.