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Gloria Henry, iconic TV mom on 'Dennis the Menace,' dies at 98

Gloria Henry played Alice Mitchell, the endlessly patient mother of the mischievous title character in the early '60s show, which was based on a newspaper cartoon by Hank Ketcham.
Gloria Henry as Alice Mitchell in the CBS TV show "Dennis the Menace."
Gloria Henry as Alice Mitchell in the CBS TV show "Dennis the Menace." CBS / via Getty Images

Actor Gloria Henry, who advanced from B movies in the 1940s to an iconicTV mom on the CBS sitcom “Dennis the Menace,” died Saturday, one day after her 98th birthday.

Henry’s death was revealed Sunday in an Instagram post from her daughter, Erin Ellwood an interior designer and longtime production designer. “She was such an incredible woman in so many ways,” Ellwood wrote.

Henry played Alice Mitchell, the endlessly patient, shirtwaist dress-wearing mother of the mischievous title character created as a newspaper cartoon by Hank Ketcham. The TV series adaptation ran from 1959 to 1963 with Jay North in the title role. Henry’s co-star Herbert Anderson also became an iconic TV dad with his horn rim glasses, sharp-angled suits and V-neck sweaters.

The "Dennis the Menace" cast: Henry as Alice Mitchell, Herbert Anderson as Henry Mitchell and Jay North as Dennis in 1960.CBS via Getty Images

Henry maintained a steady presence in TV through the mid-1960s. But there was a long gap in her resume while she took time out from acting to raise her three children with architect Craig Ellwood, her husband of 28 years. She resurfaced in 1981 with a role in the TV movie “The Brady Brides,” a sequel to another classic TV clan.

Henry logged guest shots on 1980s and ’90s TV staples including “Newhart,” “Simon & Simon,” “Silver Spoons,” “Dallas,” “Mr. Belvedere” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” Her final credit came on a 2012 episode of “Parks and Recreation.”

Born in New Orleans, Henry moved to Los Angeles as a teenager and began appearing in B movies such as 1947’s “Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back,” 1948’s “Adventures in Silverado,” 1949’s “Riders in the Sky” and “Air Hostess.” In 1952 she became a regular on the TV series “The Files of Jeffrey Jones.” She had guest shots on “My Little Margie,” “Mr. and Mrs. North,” “Father Knows Best” and “Perry Mason” before “Dennis the Menace” came along.

Henry in the late 1940s, around the time she began appearing in movies. De Carvalho Collection / Getty Images

In a 2011 interview with KTLA-TV Los Angeles, Henry noted that she clashed early in her career when she was under contract to Columbia Pictures with studio chief Harry Cohn.

Cohn once threatened Henry, “You may get somewhere at this studio but it’ll be over my dead body,” Henry told KTLA. When she first auditioned for the “Dennis the Menace,” Henry figured she would never get the role because the series was produced by Columbia Pictures. But when Cohn died of a heart attack in February 1958, Henry got the part two days later.

A decade ago, Henry said she was inspired to pursue acting roles again by the success that Betty White has enjoyed in her 90s. “She can’t have all the jobs,” Henry joked to KTLA.

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