|Died||February 17, 1962 (aged 55)|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills|
Joseph Sherrard Kearns (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.
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. He and his family were devout Mormons, whose ancestors were Mormon pioneers. 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. 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.
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.He also appeared on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, playing various different characters including Professor Moriarty and even Dr. Watson.
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. 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.
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).
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.
He appeared on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show a total of 11 times, The 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".
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. 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, three months after his death. There were references to George being 'back east' in subsequent shows.
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 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. He purchased a Hammond organ and installed it in a studio apartment that he designed and built in the 1940s. He later purchased a larger 26 rank Wurlitzer 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. A Republican, he supported Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election.
He was hospitalized but never regained consciousness and died on February 17, 1962, five days after his 55th birthday. He was buried at the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.