Of all the many, many, many projects the Pentagon has supported, one of the most surprising and seemingly innocent is the mid-century TV series of Dennis the Menace. In one episode ‘Dennis at Boot Camp’ the producers asked for permission for three days filming at the Naval Training Center in San Diego (the same one of Top Gun and Anwar Al Awlaki fame). In return the DOD had some demands of the script, revealing how even the most innocuous-seeming entertainment products can be subject to military approval.
Among the files recently liberated from the National Archives by Roger Stahl is a handful of pages on this episode of Dennis the Menace. Alongside access to the San Diego base the producers wanted a half-day of filming aboard the training submarine Trepang. They also wanted some vehicles, including a Navy helicopter. It appears from the documents that the show paid nothing for this support, and that the Navy were more concerned with content than in reimbursement.
Alongside some minor dialogue changes one scene was problematic – where two seamen make fun of Dennis. The Navy’s notes read:
The characterization of the two seamen as would-be comics who make fun of a little boy is objectionable. This scene could easily be revised to omit that. Sailors and servicemen in general have a reputation for taking a friendly attitude towards children.
In a moment of extreme cynicism the Navy’s assessment also comments:
This program, which would be an episode in a series with a predominantly juvenile audience offers excellent opportunity to enhance Navy recruiting.