Ketcham, 70, a genial, youthful-looking Californian clad in a khaki suit and a pink-and-white-striped shirt with expensive loafers and matching pink socks, is in Washington shedding a little of his shield to pump for a musical version of "[Dennis] the Menace"-"a play you wouldn't be embarrassed to take the kids to see," he explains. With a book by Ernest Chambers, music by Doug Katsaros and lyrics by Richard Engquist, "Dennis" had its world premiere at the Olney Theatre this week and is playing through May 27.
It was a life afforded by "Dennis the Menace." He has told the story of its creation many times, but still warms to it. A freelance cartoonist, he was sitting at his drawing board in his Carmel, Calif., home when his wife stormed into his studio with the words, "Your son is a menace." "You mean Dennis?" he asked. A light bulb lit up in his head, and a star was born.
Being the model for Dennis the Menace loaded the real Dennis with heavy baggage. So did the turmoil surrounding the end of his parents' marriage and his mother's death during the divorce proceedings. And today, Dennis, who lives in Ohio, and [Hank Ketcham] are estranged. "These things happen," says Ketcham, referring to both the marital breakup and his son's loss of privacy. "But this was even worse because his name was used. He was brought in unwillingly and unknowingly, and it confused him."
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