Comic actor Alan Young, who appeared in a number of films but will always be remembered as the straight man to a talking horse named "Mister Ed," has died of natural causes, according to a spokesperson. He was 96.
Mister Ed, which was one of my favorite television shows growing up and still is a favorite of mine today thanks to DVD sets, was one of the craziest ideas ever for a television show. No doubt influenced by the "Francis the Talking Mule" motion pictures of a number of years prior, it debuted first as a syndicated program in 1961, then went to CBS where it ran until 1966 on late Sunday afternoons.
If the show looked a bit like the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, there was a good reason for it. George Burns backed the project, I believe his brother worked on the program, and the great character actor Larry Keating, who appeared on the Burns show, co-starred with Alan Young as the uppity neighbor Roger Addison. Keating was brilliant in the part, but sadly he died of leukemia in 1963. Leon Ames took over as the next-door neighbor to Young and his onscreen wife Connie Hines, who herself passed away a few years ago.
Young was a very good actor with excellent comic timing. The plots were absolutely ridiculous, and Young would be funny when he would be caught talking to the horse, who of course never talked to anybody but him.
Several years ago Young was gracious enough to sign for me a photograph of him with Mister Ed, real name Bamboo Harvester. I have it in one of the boxes, and I have no way to scan that picture anyway. Young seemed like a very nice man.
Mr. Young had been a popular radio and television personality and had appeared in several films, including “Tom Thumb” (1958) and “The Time Machine” (1960), when, in his early 40s, he landed the role of Wilbur Post, the bumbling, well-meaning architect who owned a loquacious, fun-loving horse named Mr. Ed.
“Mister Ed” became a hit, running from 1961 to 1966 on CBS. The episodes usually revolved around Wilbur’s clumsy attempts to undo Ed’s mischief, situations made more difficult by the fact that Ed would speak only to Wilbur.
Mr. Young had a mischievous streak himself: Many years after the fact, he said he had started the rumor that the crew got Ed to “talk” by coating his mouth with peanut butter. Actually, the crew would place a piece of nylon in Ed’s mouth; the horse would then try to remove it by moving his lips, giving the illusion that he was talking when the voice of Allan Lane, a star of B westerns, was added. (Mr. Lane died in 1973).