Sat, 10/01/2011

"You've never heard of a talking horse?" 50 Years of Mister Ed

October 1st marks the 50th anniversary of the sitcom Mister Ed, which began its five-year network run on CBS on October 1, 1961. (The show initially ran in limited first-run syndication from January to July of 1961.) The premise, was simple, Mister Ed was a talking horse who only spoke openly to his eccentric owner, Wilbur Post (played by Alan Young). Archive of American Television interviewees share some little-known facts about the classic series:

George Burns helped launch the series.

"George Burns was part-owner of the show.  He put up $75,000 for the pilot, which never aired. I was at that famous meeting where George said, "the horse wouldn’t say that." I said, "I got a flash for you George, the horse wouldn’t say anything!  And he says, "no, the character that we’ve given the horse wouldn’t say it."  So my partner Lou Derman said, "let the horse decide."  That became a famous thing." -- Larry Rhine, Writer

Mister Ed's voice was played by Western star Allan "Rocky" Lane.

-- Alan Young, Actor ("Wilbur Post")

Mister Ed was your typical American teenager.

"Lou Derman's contribution outside of some wonderful writing were two things that, in my opinion, made that show what it was.  One was to treat Ed as a teenager. Once you tell that to writers, you can have that he wanted his mane to grow long. He wanted to play a guitar. He wanted a pad of his own. It gave us all those premises.  The other was a wonderful thought.  Sounds easy, but it wasn’t at the time. That was to put a telephone in the barn in reach of the horse because the horse never spoke to anybody but Wilbur. If he talked to everybody you wouldn’t have a show.... The telephone gave Ed a chance, who didn’t talk to everybody, to talk to everybody.  And he would pick up the phone and say, "a horse is being held here against his will. This is Wilbur Post." And so forth and also listening in on calls from the house and he knew everything that was going on because he listened in." -- Larry Rhine, Writer

Mister Ed didn't really talk.

-- Alan Young, Actor ("Wilbur Post")

The theme for Mister Ed was originally sung by an Italian opera singer.

Ray Evans:  I wrote the lyrics, "a horse is a horse," or something to that jingle, a catch phrase, and Jay took it there and did the 6/8 melody to that, and practically the same lyric.

Jay Livingston :  I said, "I feel sorry if a buddy of mine has to sing this.  He can’t breathe.  No place."  Now they went to Rome to score the show. And they had an Italian opera singer sing Mister Ed.  Can you imagine how that sounded?

Ray Evans :  It was cheaper to go to Rome.

Jay Livingston :  And they wanted to go on the air in a week.  So they said, "will you sing it to the track and we’ll get a singer in later?" But we’ve got to go on the air.  So I sang it to the track, it’s been on there ever since.

-- Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, Mister Ed theme song composers

Mister Ed was actually a zebra.

Okay, no one in the Archive spoke about this, and we're very skeptical, but seems pretty sure that was the case....

To learn more about Mister Ed, visit the Archive's Mister Ed Show Page.