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 hose
Is the famous Mister Ed!
– “Mister Ed,” by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans
It was Alan Young’s good and bad fortune to be the straight man to a talking horse.
Mr. Young was already an established radio and television personality when he began playing Wilbur Post, who owned “Mister Ed,” a talking horse. True, only Wilbur could hear Mister Ed talk. And true, Mister Ed spent most of his time and effort trying to get Wilbur into trouble. The horse was played by Bamboo Harvester, a palamino gelding,1 voiced by former Western film actor Allan Lane.
The show itself was typical mid-1960s fluffy nonsense, marginally entertaining and lacking anything of substance. A kind of television cotton candy. And, of course, only the horse was close to being a person of color; otherwise, the cast was snow white.
It was Young’s bad fortune to have found his greatest success as the straight man to a smart-ass horse. The role followed him the rest of his career. He made the best of it – his autobiography is titled Mister Ed and Me – but Young had won a primetime Emmy before he took the role and you have to wonder.2
Young was born in England and raised in Canada. The quintessentially American role actor wasn’t. After success in Canada, he had moved to the States and the role of host of The Alan Young Show from 1950 to 1953. He had a number of movie roles, ranging from Androcles and the Lion (1952) to Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). He had a very good singing voice, and starred in the 2001 revival of Show Boat. And he was the voice of Scrooge McDuck in numerous Disney cartoons. He had a career before and after Mister Ed, although the obituaries and comments don’t talk about it much.
It was Young’s good fortune to land a role in a television series that, silly as it was and is, remains in syndication today. It brought him fame, of a kind, and associated him with a theme song that is an ear worm 50 years later. And earned him an obituary in the New York Times.
There are fates that are a lot worse. Rest in peace, Angus Alan Young, 1919 – 2016.