If there ever was a television series that was completely off the wall and original it was the much-loved Mr. Ed from the 1960s. Originally filmed in black and white and later sadly colorized, Mr. Ed would first air on television as a syndicated television series. That was very unusual as most shows in the 1960s started out on one of the big three Networks and would eventually find its way to syndication. However, the show Mr. Ed did it the opposite way because quite frankly there must have been some doubt by the networks over the appeal of a show that featured a talking horse as its star. Mister Ed. Ran in syndication from 1961 to 1966 and was produced by Filmways.
The show Mr. Ed was inspired by the short stories written about the title character by children’s author Walter R. Brooks. It was among the few series of its time to be picked up by a major network to be aired for prime time. In total, there are a total of 143 black and white episodes credited to the Mister Ed series.
The theme song for the series was also named “Mister Ed” and it was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. For the first seven episodes, the music was instrumental only. Livingston agreed to sing until a professional singer could be found, but the producers chose to stick with his singing voice instead.
Mister Ed’s Television Debut
The children’s short story titled “The Talking Horse” was written by Walter R. Brooks, which was first featured in the September 18, 1937 issue of Liberty Magazine. Brooks, who has written several short stories for children, served as an inspiration for Arthur Lubin to bring the story of The Taking Horse to television. Originally, the show’s concept mirrored the movie series “Francis the Talking Mule” where the mule conversed with only one person. Its first six films were directed by Lubin from 1950 until 1955. He had wanted to make a television series out of Francis The Talking Mule but wasn’t able to secure the legal rights. So, as an alternative, he favored the written work of Walter R Brooks. With the $70,000 funding assistance from George Burns, the pilot episode for Mister Ed was shot out of the comedian’s McCadden Studio in Hollywood. Behind the scenes was Jack Benny while actor Scott McKay played the character known as Wilbur Post.
Unfortunately for Lubin, none of the networks seemed interested to air the pilot episode of Mister Ed, which he originally titled “Wilbur Pope and Mister Ed”. So, the director opted to sell it into syndication first. Among over 100 stations, Lubin managed to earn single-sponsorship identification for the program. Furthermore, the character of Wilbur Post saw Alan Young replace Scott McKay before production for the series began in November 1960. With Lubin working in Europe at the time, he didn’t direct the earliest run of the series, but Mister Ed still managed to have its 26 episodes find airtime with CBS.
Mister Ed On TV
As a series, Mister Ed was designed with two main characters. Alan Young played the klutzy architect Wilbur Post and the palomino horse characterized as Mister Ed was played by Bamboo Harvester. The talking voice of Mister Ed was performed by Allan Lane, an actor known for his roles in Western films. 17230 Valley Springs Road in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles was designated as the official homefront for the Wilbur Post Family.
The comedy series featured many gags, especially when Mister Ed, Wilbur Post’s cheeky horse that would speak only to him, pulls off a number of antics that made him out to be a troublemaker. The human-like nature of Mister Ed took delight in frustrating Wilbur Post to make him appear eccentric in front of his family, neighbors, and guests. Adding to the appeal of Mister Ed as the talking horse was the training involved that saw the gelding’s lips move on queue with his trainer, Lester Hilton.
Assigned to the show’s role of Wilbur Post’s wife, Carol, was Connie Hines. Hines replaced Sandra White, who originally played Carol Post in the unaired pilot. The Posts also had two sets of neighbors. The first was the husband and wife couple, the Addisons. In the pilot episode, Roger Addison was played by Larry Keating and Edna Skinner played his wife, Kay. However, when Keating died in 1963, Mister Ed sees the silent replacement of Roger Addison’s character with Paul Fenton (played by Jack Albertson) as the brother to Kay Addison.
The other set of neighbors to Mister Ed and the Posts were Colonel Gordon Kirkwood (played by Leon Ames) and his wife Winnie (played by Florence MacMichael). It is established in the series that the colonel was Wilbur Post’s commanding officer while serving for the United States Air Force. The Kirkwoods were prominent throughout most of the series until they were phased out in 1965. Replacing them was the recurring character Mr. Higgins (played by Barry Kelley), who was the father to Carol Post. During the final run of the Mister Ed series, Mr. Higgins had moved into Wilbur Post’s home. This made the already tense relationship between Wilbur Post with his uptight father-in-law even more uncomfortable. And, it didn’t help matters that Mr. Higgins constantly nagged his daughter to divorce Wilbur, whom he often referred to as a “kook”.
Throughout the run of the Mister Ed television series, a number of top-name celebrities guest appeared on the show. The most infamous would be Clint Eastwood, where the show’s subtitle “Clint Eastwood Meets Mister Ed” laid out the obvious. Other famous starring guests include George Burns, Sebastian Cabot, Johnny Crawford, Leo Durocher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jon Provost, and Mae West. Each of them appeared as themselves when on the show. Jack LaLanne appears as a cameo near the beginning of Season 1’s episode “Psychoanalyst Show” when Mister Ed is watching his exercise program.
Another guest star is Donna Douglas, who appeared in three different episodes. The first has her playing the model known as Lady Godiva in “Busy Wife”, while the second had her as Blanche in “Ed the Jumper”, and finally as Clint Eastwood’s girlfriend when he guest appeared on the show.
Nearing The End
During the final season of Mister Ed, not only did Alan Young play one of the series’ two leading characters, but he also directed all of its episodes. Throughout the entire run of the series, it was never explained how the other lead character, Mister Ed, was able to talk. However, in the very first episode, when Wilbur expresses his failed attempt to understand the situation, the talking horse simply answers “Don’t try! It’s bigger than the both of us!” It is the one and only time that hinted at how a horse is able to communicate with a human voice. Despite Mister Ed’s success as a syndicated television series, as of 1966, the network decided to cancel the show due to what it felt was “too bucolic” as a culture within a society that was starting to become more politically correct than ever before.
Goodbye Mister Ed
Bamboo Harvester, the cross-bred gelding of American Saddlebred and Arabian descent, died in 1970. There are conflicting stories revolving around the retirement and death of the horse that played Mister Ed. This even includes the horse who posed as Mister Ed in still pictures, who later died in Oklahoma in 1979. Many fans thought the horse whom they dubbed “Mister Ed” was the same one on the show. The real Mister Ed, Bamboo Harvester, is buried in Tahlequah, Oklahoma where the tombstone is engraved with the horse’s head and screen name.
Feature Photo: Photo: Coulter-Strauss Public Relations for D’Arcy Advertising. D’Arcy was the ad agency for the program’s sponsor, Studebaker., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons