Friday, April 5, 2013

Mr. Ed: The Talking Horse

Welcome to day five of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Today we are discussing one of my favorites subjects--horses! Like many young girls, I dreamed of owning my own horse ranch when I grew older. I had a beautiful Arabian/Quarter Horse named Sioux who I adored. I often wondered how much fun it would be if she could talk to me. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the conversations quite as much if she spoke to me the way the talking horse speaks to his owner in Mr. Ed, though! 

Mr. Ed

Mr. Ed was a half hour sitcom that aired on CBS from 1960 to 1965. It never ranked in the Top 25 shows, but it was well-loved by its fans. Mr. Ed wasn't a rescue horse, saving lost little children like Lassie. He didn't splash his best friend with a flap of his tail like Flipper. Mr. Ed was an eight year old Palomino horse who spent his time in a horse stall, complaining to his owner. Yes, you read that correctly. Mr. Ed was a grumpy, opinionated, talking horse. 

Mr. Ed had plenty of opportunities to talk to others. He was often visited by the neighbors, the Addisons and the Kirkwoods. He received regular visits from the local veterinarian. Nevertheless, when others were present, Mr. Ed remained silent.

Mr. Ed's ability to talk was never explained and rarely contemplated. According to an article on Wikipedia, in one show, Wilbur mentioned that he would like to figure out how Mr. Ed was able to speak to him and Mr. Ed replied, "Don't try! It's bigger than both of us!"

Wilbur Post Moves to the Country

One might think that owning a talking horse would be fun. It should be fun! It wasn't fun. Mr. Ed only spoke to his owner, Wilbur Post (Alan Young), an architect who moved to the city with his wife, Carol (Connie Hines), to relax in the fresh air and sunshine at his California country farm. Wilbur was not aware that his country home included a barn, and he certainly was not aware that the barn came with a talking horse!

A Talking Horse? 

Mr. Ed wasn't the first talking animal in Hollywood. Francis the Talking Mule starred in a series of films from 1950 to 1955, and she was also a bit of a chatter box. The Francis films were directed by Arthur Lubin, who not-so-coincidentally also directed Mr. Ed. Mr. Lubin's secretary introduced him to the idea of creating a television show around the character of a talking horse. 

The actual concept for Mr. Ed actually came from a series of short stories printed in Liberty Magazine. The series was called "The Talking Horse" and was written by author Walter R. Brooks. Mr. Ed was not the first talking animal for Walter Brooks, either. He also had a series of children's books about a character named Freddy the Pig who talked to humans and found ways to help them stay out of trouble in much the same way Mr. Ed helps Wilbur Post.  

The Cast of Mr. Ed

Alan Young, who plays Wilbur Post, Mr. Ed's owner, was a popular comedian, radio and television star in the 1940s and 50s. He had his own sitcom in 1953, The Alan Young Show, but the show was cancelled due to constant disputes with CBS, so Young moved to England where he was even more popular. When he decided to return to the U.S. he discovered the only job he could get was as the companion to a talking horse! He took the job and, in spite of the fact that he really did not like horses. Horses, unfortunately, are very sensitive (this is a fact) and Mr. Ed didn't like Alan Young, either! Nevertheless, Young did very well with Mr. Ed, perhaps due to the fact that he owned part of the show and was able to retire quite comfortably when the show ended.  

Wilbur Post (Alan Young) and Mr. Ed (Bamboo Harvester)

Connie Hines, who plays Wilbur's wife, left the Midwest for Hollywood with dreams of becoming a star. On her fourth day in California she was stopped by a police officer who made a sarcastic comment about the number of young women flocking to Hollywood. The officer told her to go home. Hines refused. She had an audition. She landed her first role that same day. Connie Hines worked steadily on television, including her five year role on Mr. Ed.

Larry Keating played neighbor Roger Addison. Addison was an important cast member in the plot of Mr. Ed, however, Keating was dying of cancer, refused to tell anyone, and refused to stop working. (I would probably do the same.) Keating died after the start of the 1963-64 season and his wife, Kay Addison, played by Edna Skinner, was written out of the show. 

Mr. Ed's voice was the voice of Rocky Lane. Rocky Lane was a real cowboy! He also played cowboys in Western films, such as King of the Mounties, Red Gulch Renegades, and the Silver City Kid. Lane generally performed with his own horse, Black Jack. He was a popular Western performer in the 1940s and 50s and once starred in the series Red Ryder

Wilbur (Alan Young) and Mr. Ed (Bamboo Harvester)

Bamboo Harvester as Mr. Ed

The most important cast member was Mr. Ed! Mr. Ed was played by Bamboo Harvester. Bamboo Harvester was 11 years old at the beginning of the show. He stood 15 hands high and weighed 1100 pounds. He was a gorgeous Palomino that cost Filmways Studios $1500, which was quite a bit of money in 1961, but how often do you get the chance to buy a talking horse?

Bamboo Harvester was a quirky eater. He ate 20 pounds of hay each day, then washed it down with sweet tea! The tea contained the only sugar he was allowed, though. He did receive carrots when he behaved, and he did behave. He was a hard-working actor who arrived on the set at 7:30 in the morning and worked until 6 at night. He also toured the country for 15 years after the show ended and Mr. Ed gained its cult status, then died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 33. 

  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985. 
  • "Mr. Ed." Wikipedia. Retrieved April 5, 2013.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.


JoJo said...

I loved this show. I read that they'd put a bucket of his fave food near his mouth and that'd cause him to flex his lips for the talking overdubs.

PS Why aren't you publishing comments?

Pam Margolis said...

i used to love watching Mr Ed reruns!

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Jo, thank you so much for asking. There is a problem with the settings on this blog and I have a friend working on it. They're supposed to be posting, and posting so everyone can see them and join in on the conversation! That's why I write nine blogs--so I can meet people who like to talk about the same things I do. I am so impressed that you continued reading even though you figured out the comments were not working. Thank you so much--I appreciate having you here!
Pam, I wish they'd play Mr. Ed again. Talking animal films are my favorite!

Anonymous said...

why was mr ed cancelled back then?

Darla Sue Dollman said...

According to Alan Young, who played Wilbur Post on the show, CBS cancelled Mr. Ed halfway through its sixth season. The reasons given were mostly passed on through rumors, but apparently there was a new executive at CBS who thought that The Beverly Hillbillys, Mr. Ed, and Petticoat Junction, the network was gaining a reputation as "the hillbilly station," and the network wanted to change that image. Ratings were high, everyone involved was shocked and some were reportedly even crying when they heard the news. This is not the first show I've read about that was cancelled at the height of its popularity. Mr. Ed was so well-loved that in my opinion it's possible it could have continued for many more seasons. Obviously, this decision was not made for financial reasons and it always surprises me when networks end shows that are clearly paying well for silly reasons like "a hillbilly image." But, that's the way the business end works--more politics than logic.

Anonymous said...

why was mr ed cancelled back then?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Reydavid Castellano said...

I'm actually watching mr. Ed right now I love this show

Darla Sue Dollman said...

My grandchildren love the show as much as I do--it really is very funny!

Boto Winter said...

Did Mr. Ed have a previous owner before Wilbur

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I was unable to find an answer to this question with a cursory search through my sources, but I think there is likely an answer in the short stories that were the basis for the show. I am a huge fan of short stories and would love to look them up and see if I can find an answer for you.

Dianne Powell said...

Sad to here about Allan Young. He had a good life. I also loved this show. Who knows about networks these days. Tons of channels and not much good to watch.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Cable has a few channels that show the classics. I prefer the classics, as well.