Straight Man to a Talking Horse
When Alan Young was originally approached to do “Mr. Ed” in the early ‘50s, the star of his own Emmy-winning comedy revue wanted nothing to do with a show about a talking horse.
“I said I didn’t want to work with anybody who doesn’t clean up after themselves,” recalled Young.
Fast forward to 1959. George Burns, who had financed an unsuccessful “Mr. Ed” pilot with another actor playing architect Wilbur Post, told the show’s co-owner: “I think you should get Alan Young-he looks like the kind of guy a horse would talk to.”
This time Young, his career having “taken a nose dive, as they do,” readily accepted.
And because of that, Young will forever be remembered as the man who talked to a golden palomino in one of the first in a wave of ‘60s television fantasy shows.
For five seasons, Young-who now makes his home in Dana Point- played straight man to “the famous Mr. Ed.” Wilbur and the talking horse he inherited when he moved into a home in the suburbs are currently enjoying television afterlife on Nickelodeon’s Nick at Night.
Young said Wilbur was “naive and bumbling,” while “Ed was a wily one. I think it’s the same chemistry that made Laurel and Hardy and Jackie Gleason and Art Carney: It’s the one guy making a fool of the other guy.”
Young, who currently does the voice of Scrooge McDuck on TV’s “Duck Tales,” believes that the affection he had for his four-legged co-star contributed to the show’s success.
“I love animals,” said Young, Rand I guess you have to have a sense of fantasy about you, because I think I really got to believe that horse was talking to me.”
Occasionally, even the writers had trouble keeping the talking horse in perspective.
Young, who would attend rewrite sessions, recalled the time that some one made a suggestion for Ed “and I said, ‘No, a horse wouldn’t do that.’ And then the other writers said, ‘No, Ed wouldn’t do that.’ ”
Finally, George Burns, who was also sitting in on the meeting, said, “A horse wouldn’t do what? A horse will do anything you tell him to.”
Laughed Young: “We suddenly realized we were talking about Ed as though he were a real character.”
Long after the show ended, it was revealed that Ed’s voice was supplied by Western star Allan (Rocky) Lane. Young, however, prefers not to divulge how the trainer got Ed to move his mouth.
“But I’ll tell you this,” said Young, Rafter the first year, you couldn’t shut him up, because as soon as I stopped talking, his lips started to move.”
Although Young received top billing, it was obvious who wielded the most clout on the set: “If Ed got tired, they quit shooting for the day; if I got tired, it didn’t make any difference.”
Mr. Ed, according to Young, loved to work. And it wasn’t unusual for the crew to break into applause after Ed finished one of his on-camera stunts. But even horses have their off days.
Driving to the studio in the morning, Young would often come up behind Ed’s horse trailer on the freeway.
“You could tell how he felt,” said Young. “If his tail was tucked into the tail gate, he wasn’t up to doing it that morning. If his tail was up and flowing in the breeze-then he was up to doing it.”