By Susan Johnson
Joseph Kearns was best known for playing Mr. Wilson on the show, Dennis the Menace. He also voice acted the role of the Doorknob in the classic animated Disney film, Alice in Wonderland. Joseph Kearns was born in 1907 and was christened, Joseph Sherrard Kearns.
Kearns got his first taste of acting when he was only 11 years old, going on the road with 11 other children, touring with a vaudeville troupe for 14 months. When he returned, his Uncle Frank, who was a child psychiatrist, talked Joseph’s father into sending Joseph to a boarding school for precosious kids. This school happened to be in San Diego, where Uncle Frank’s practice was located.
Joseph’s father did not want him in show business, so when Joseph was around 20 years old, he decided to try working in his father’s wool business. He was so bad at buying wool that his father gave him his blessing to join the Hart Players, which were a stock company in Los Angeles.
Joseph toured on the West Coast and for a while, was a disc jockey, script-writer, reporter, emcee and just about anything else that was needed in a radio station in his home town of Salt Lake City, Utah. Finally, in 1935, he settled in Hollywood.
When he arrived in Hollywood, he got the role of the Crazyquilt Dragon on the radio serial,The Cinnamon Bear. Joseph began getting parts on popular old time radio shows, such as, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, and Fibber McGee and Molly, just to name a few. One of his most famous roles was as Ed, the security guard at Jack Benny’s money vault.
In 1951, Joseph Kearns got his first film role in the movie, Hard, Fast and Beautiful. The same year, he played the role of the Doorknob, in the animated classic, Alice in Wonderland. He had small roles in other movies throughout the 1950’s.
He is best remembered in the role as Mr. George Wilson on the television series, Dennis the Menace. The show debuted in 1959 and Kearns played the part until his death on February 17, 1962, of a cerebral brain hemorrhage. Although, no one took over the role of George Wilson after Joseph’s death, Gale Gordon played the role of George Wilson’s brother, John.