Dennis The Menace's Dad


[Correspondent John Blackstone reported this May 1999 profile of cartoonist Hank Ketcham, rebroadcast on CBS News Sunday Morning on June 11, 2000.]

The quiet studio shaded by Monterey pines must be hiding a fountain of youth. The artist inside, Hank Ketcham, is 80 years old, but he's busy launching a second career. And Ketcham's most famous creation, Dennis the Menace, hasn't aged in more than half a century.

"Every birthday is his sixth," explains Ketcham. "And as soon as he blows the candles out, he's five again."

Dennis the Menace has been getting into mischief since 1949. He's found endless ways to annoy, and asked countless innocent but revealing questions. Like, "How long have you been working for us, Mom?"

"Well, it's good editing of humor. Making it possible for the viewer to look at the panel, read the caption, hopefully smile and laugh, as he's going in ten seconds," Ketcham continues.

In 1959, Dennis the Menace became a hit TV show. Today, the perennial five-year-old appears in more than 1,000 newspapers. He speaks 14 languages and is recognized in 68 countries, even if the man who created him isn't.

Now, Hank Ketcham is ready for a new kind of celebrity: moving from the comic pages to the art galleries. The cartoonist is becoming known as a painter.

"He's stretching out. You can be a hundred and still stretch out," says jazz pianist Horace Silver. He was among those toasting Ketcham recently at an exhibition of his paintings in Los Angeles. Ketcham's portraits of jazz musicians such as Stuff Smith, Jonah Jones, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker and Wynton Marsalis reflect his love for their music.

"A lot of people know the music. They know the sound of the singer or the note of the clarinet or horn but they don't know what the men look like," says Ketcham. "Doing Dennis in black and white, I would feel kind of in a painterly mood. Then I finally decided, well, what the heck. Why don't I start and do some real painting?"

Ketcham used to be an enthusiastic golfer at his home in Pebble Beach, California. But now he's become so enthusiastic about painting he's pretty much put his golf clubs away. Now when he goes to the golf course, it's to sketch, not to play.

"I used to do it three times a week," says Ketcham. "Then I realized that Manet, Picasso, and Rembrandt didn't play golf. Look at all the stuff they turned out!"

There's no one style, but each painting reflects the cartoonist's search for the things that make us smile. It's a search Ketcham began as a young animator, drawing characters for Walt Disney.

At Dennis the Menace Park, a playground he helped build in Monterey, Ketcham can be in the midst of what he loves best, the innocence of youth.

Today, Ketcham does most of his work on Dennis by fax. He supervises two young artists who now draw most of the Dennis cartoonsHe tries to keep life as fresh and simple as a five-year-old boy.

While Hank Ketcham may be heading off in new directions, he insists that Dennis will continue to be exactly as he's always been.

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