Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Do You Remember Mister Ed?

Are you old enough to remember the television series Mister Ed which ran from 1961 to 1966?  It was later put in syndication and ran for years.  The show was derived from short stories by Walter R. Brooks.  Brooks began with The Talking Horse in the September 18, 1937, issue of Liberty.  Brooks is otherwise known for the Freddy the Pig series of children's novels, which likewise feature talking animals who interact with humans.
The star of the show was a palomino horse whose name was "Bamboo Harvester"  He was part standardbred he was a show and parade horse. His sire was "The Harvester" and his dam was part Arabian.  He won the "Patsy Award" three times and was stabled at Eaton Canyon Riding Club in Pasadena where many have reported being able to go and ride him. The first horse that played Mister Ed for the pilot episode was a chestnut gelding
Two pilot episodes were filmed because the horse in the first pilot (the one where Wilbur and Carol first move into their new home and meet Mr. Ed) was unruly and difficult to work with.

It is often said the crew was able to get Mister Ed to move his mouth by applying peanut butter to his gums in order for him to try to remove it by moving his lips. However, Alan Young, who plays Wilbur, Mr. Ed's owner, said in 2004 that this was untrue, and that he had started this story himself. In another interview, Young said, "the producers, suggested we keep the method a secret because they thought kids would be disappointed if they found out the technical details of how it was done, so I made up the peanut butter story, and everyone bought it. It was initially done by putting a piece of nylon thread in his mouth. But Ed actually learned to move his lips on cue when the trainer touched his hoof. In fact, he soon learned to do it when I stopped talking during a scene! Ed was very smart."

Young also states in the AAT interview that after the first season, Ed did not need the nylon – Alan and trainer Les were out riding one day and Les started laughing, telling Alan to look at Ed, who was moving his lips every time they stopped talking, as if attempting to join in the conversation. This difference is visible when comparing first season episodes to later ones, as it is clear that early on he is working the irritating string out, sometimes working his tongue in the attempt too, and later on he tends to only move his upper lip, and appears to watch Alan Young closely, waiting for him to finish his lines before twitching his lip.

Young added in the Archive interview that Ed saw the trainer as the disciplinarian, or father figure, and when scolded for missing a cue, would go to Alan for comfort, like a mother figure, which Les said was a good thing.

There are conflicting stories involving of the death of Bamboo Harvester. By 1968, Bamboo Harvester was suffering from a variety of health problems. In 1970 he was put down with no publicity and buried at Snodgrass Farm in Oklahoma. Alan Young told a different story, saying he had frequently visited Harvester in retirement. He states that Bamboo Harvester died from an inadvertent tranquilizer administered while he was in a stable on Sparks Street in Burbank where he lived with his trainer Lester Hilton. Young says Hilton was out of town visiting relatives and a temporary care giver might have seen Bamboo Harvester rolling on the ground, struggling to get up. Young said Harvester was a heavy horse and he was not always strong enough to get back on his feet without struggling. The theory is the caregiver thought the horse was in distress and administered a tranquilizer and, for unknown reasons, the horse died within hours. The remains were cremated and scattered by Hilton in the Los Angeles area at a spot known only to him.

A different horse who died in Oklahoma in February 1979 was widely thought to be Bamboo Harvester, but this horse was in fact a horse that posed for the still pictures of Mister Ed used by the production company for the show's press kits. (See Wikipedia for more information)

There's a good book out there if you loved the series that you might be interested in:

Stay warm if you are in the east.  Baby it's COLD outside, below zero here in Virginia!


  1. I loved watching Mr. Ed reruns in Richmond when I would visit my Aunts that lived there. We didn't get a station that played it down in Southwest Virginia.

  2. Of course I loved Mr. Ed! My only issue with the show - and this seriously drove me nuts - was how infrequently Wilbur actually rode the horse. As a riding-starved child, having a horse of your own and not riding it was sheer lunacy in my book. I just itched to leap through my television screen and mount up... I think my little brothers didn't like watching the show with me for all the complaining I would do!

  3. Yes, I remember Mr. Ed! And I still catch it in reruns every once in awhile. I agree with RiderWriter. They never seemed to go riding.


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