“A horse is a horse, of course, of course, And no one can talk to a horse of course, That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.”
Do you remember this classic theme song? The sitcom Mister Ed was not just another silly, 1960s comedy show. It was a beloved event that the whole family looked forward to throughout the early part of the decade. Read on to look back at the mischievous Mister Ed and his owner Wilbur. Learn about all the bizarre facts, strange occurrences, and behind-the-scenes info associated with this great show.
Mister Ed: The Horse, The Myth, The Legend
To get things started on the right foot, we need to talk about the main character, Mister Ed. The show always credited Mister Ed as playing himself. They wouldn’t even give the name of the actor who played his voice until much later in the series. The horse’s real name was Bamboo Harvester and his voice was played by Allan Lane.
Horse With A Refined Palate
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Unless that horse is Mister Ed and the water is actually sweet tea. Mister Ed had quite a refined palate so his daily meal always included twenty pounds of hay and a gallon of sweet tea.
Wilbur and Scrooge
Alan Young was the great actor who portrayed Wilbur Post in the show, and though he is best known for this role, he has played some other well-known characters that might surprise you. In 1974, he began voice acting and played Scrooge McDuck in several Disney films and the Duck Tales series. He has continued to voice Scrooge since that time, including in the “Kingdom Hearts” game.
Too Much Blonde
Alan Young’s naturally light blonde hair blended with Mister Ed’s coat and mane too much on the black and white film. The show’s make-up artist had one of the actresses’ hairdressers on the show regularly dye Young’s hair. After the show ended, he let it go back to its natural color.
Not A Talker
You know how Mister Ed only talks to his owner Wilbur Post in the series? Well, the stubborn horse was not much different in real life. He would only respond to his trainer, Les Hilton, which meant that he had to always be on set directing Mister Ed with commands or hand motions.
That Theme Song Tho
Everyone who watched the TV series recognizes the show’s classic theme song. When it was first written, Jay Livingston sang the theme as a demo to be re-recorded by a professional singer, however, the show’s producers liked the sound of his voice on the demo so much that they decided to keep it as the official theme song.
Mister Ed had a stunt double. His name was Pumpkin. Pumpkin was a quarter horse (Mister Ed was a Golden Palomino) and though he looked very similar to Mister Ed, he has a gold spot on his white mane. That discrepancy was easy to fix though as the make-up artist just covered the spot with some makeup before he went on stage.
At one time in during the development stage, the show was going to be named after Alan Young’s character, Wilbur. However, he was against that idea. His thoughts were that if the show doesn’t do well, he didn’t want his character to be the one to blame. So, the show was called Mister Ed.
It Just Seemed Right
Source: Sixties City
George Burns was the original producer of the series. He was also in charge of hiring some of the cast. He told the public later that he hired Alan Young to play Wilbur because “he just seemed like the sort of guy a horse would talk to.” High praise there? We don’t really know.
Talking On The Phone
We all know that Mister Ed (actually, the horse that played him in real life, Bamboo Harvester) was a talented animal. He did all kinds of things on the show, but one of his real talents is that he could answer the telephone. Speaking into the receiver was another story.
Sadly, Bamboo Harvester suffered from multiple illnesses towards the end of his life after the show ended. Eventually, in 1979, his owners decided to put him down (though some sources say 1968, 1973, or 1974) and let his spirit float up to horsey heaven. He was about 30 years old.
It isn’t only human actors who receive special recognition and win awards for great acting. No, sir. Mister Ed was honored with a Patsy Award in 1962, along with Walt Disney’s movie about dogs, Big Red. The awards were given out by The American Humane Society on a special day.
A Horse Is A Horse
That classic theme song that we all recognize was actually not always a part of the show. It was first introduced to the world in episode eight and stuck around to become one of TV’s most iconic songs. The first seven episodes only played an instrumental tune to open and close the show.
Not For Everyone
The theme song wasn’t a beloved, cherished tune for everyone. Some time after the series ended but reruns were still being shown regularly, a fundamentalist religious group in Ohio claimed that the song was “satanic.” When you play the song backwards the group said that the song was written for the devil…. Right.
A Man With Many Roles
Though Alan Young played a klutzy architect in the series, he was actually a man who played many different roles throughout his life. As a high schooler, Young had his own radio comedy show on the CBC network. After leaving the show to serve in the Royal Canadian Navy for a time, he moved to New York… and the rest is history.
Counting The Cost
The pilot episode of Mister Ed was produced by George Burns, who also helped to finance it. The episode premiered in 1961 and the pilot episode cost a whopping $70,000. That sounds like a lot, right? In 2004, when the smash television show Lost began filming, the pilot for that show cost an unbelievable $10 to $14 million.
The first company to sponsor the television series was the Studebaker Automobile Company. No wonder why Wilbur and his wife drove a 1962 Lark Convertible. In 1963 business suffered. The car company wasn’t doing well and was never able to recover. The sponsorship was withdrawn and the company collapsed. Ford took over in 1965.
The Thread Technique
At the beginning of the series, Bamboo Harvester’s trainer, Les Hilton, would use a thread technique to get the horse to look like he’s talking. This didn’t last for very long though because Bamboo Harvester quickly learned how to move his lips on cue when his trainer would touch his hoof. He was a smart horse, of course, of course.
Source: A Drifting Cowboy
The voice of Mister Ed was a closely guarded secret for a long time. Now we know that Allen Lane gave the horse his deep, memorable voice. Lane was originally from Mishawaka, Indiana and began his film career at a young age. By 1929, he had scored his first role in a film called Not Quite Decent, which has been lost. He was in a total of 125 movies and several cowboy B-movies.
Source: Cinema Blaze
As Bamboo Harvester became more familiar with Alan Young and spent more time with him and Les Hilton, his trainer, he developed a sweet relationship with both of them. The horse saw his trainer as more of a disciplinarian, father-type figure. If his trainer caught him doing something wrong, Bamboo Harvester would go to Young for comfort. Hilton thought he was treating Young as a mother figure and saw this as a good development.