Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mister Ed (1961 - 1966) * * ¾

(opening line of each episode)
Mister Ed: Hello, I'm Mister Ed.

Wilbur Post (Alan Young) is an eccentric and klutzy architect who buys a house in the country. The rambling country home he and his tolerant but domineering wife Carol (Connie Hines) live in has a barn that doubles as Wilbur's office and a horse named Mister Ed (Bamboo Harvester, voiced by Allan Lane). This palomino American Saddlebred can speak, but only to Wilbur, the first human he has ever met worth talking to. Despite all his efforts, Mister Ed will only talk to him. Much of the program's humor stems from Wilbur trying to get Mister Ed to talk to others. Never! Wilbur often looks foolish when friends and family enter the barn and catch Wilbur in mid-sentence talking to Mister Ed. The horse is a notorious troublemaker for Wilbur. Even the way Mister Ed always whinnies "Wwwillburrr" conveys the condescension the horse feels for its master. Confusion caused by having a talking horse, and the situations Mister Ed gets Wilbur into form the stories.

(Wilbur finds Mister Ed sleeping in his living room)
Wilbur: Oh no.
Mister Ed: If you had a dog, you'd let him sleep in the house.
Wilbur: A dog is different. A dog is a household pet.
Mister Ed: Then call me "Rover" and wake me at eight.

Mister Ed is the best thing that ever happened to Wilbur. Without the horse, he would be just another faceless and bland suburbanite. The horse is Wilbur's guru, friend, and confidant. Mister Ed is a "man" of the world, who bones up on his French and attempts to dance the tango. He is also quite ribald, often making risque comments about fillies. His delightful insouciance and devil-may-care attitude make this TV show very appealing and amusing. Everything else is fluffy, banal and plodding nonsense.

Mister Ed: What do you say we go out riding and pick up a couple of fillies?
Wilbur: I'm not a horse, remember?
Mister Ed: Too bad, we could have a ball double dating.

Mister Ed: I love Christmas. Wilbur is so full of the spirit of giving, and I'm so full of the spirit of receiving.

Wilbur: (after Ed finds a straw hat) What are you going to do with a straw hat?
Mister Ed: I'll wear it till it goes out of style. Then I'll eat it! (impatiently) Let's Go Wilbur!
Wilbur: Go? You're on the bottom!
Mister Ed: Sorry! I forgot! Stop gabbin' and get me some oats!

The other main characters in the show are their neighbors the Addisons, Roger (Larry Keating) and Kay (Edna Skinner) until 1963, and then the Kirkwoods, Gordon (Leon Ames) and Winnie (Florence MacMichael). In 1963, the child actor Darby Hinton, cast thereafter as Israel Boone on NBC's Daniel Boone, guest starred as Rocky in the episode "Getting Ed's Goat". Jack Albertson appeared occasionally from 1961 to 1963 as Kay Addison's older brother Paul Fenton.

Wilbur: (after Mister Ed makes a great shot in a ring toss game) Good throw, Ed! I bet you're also good at pitching horseshoes!
Mister Ed: No, Wilbur, I don't play horseshoes.
Wilbur: Really? Why not?
Mister Ed: Because Mom always taught us kids not to throw our clothes around!
Wilbur: Ed, you have run away for the last time! I'm going to lock you in your stall.
Mister Ed: Don't do that Wilbur! I suffer from claustrophobia!
Wilbur: Claustrophobia? You mean you have a fear of confined spaces?
Mister Ed: Sure, it runs in the family. I even get nervous when I put my nose in a small feedbag.
Wilbur: I've been meaning to ask you, Ed. Just how do horses sleep standing up?
Mister Ed: (Shocked) We Do?
Wilbur: Didn't you know?
Mister Ed: How can I? When I'm asleep my eyes are closed! Well, time to hit the hay... oh I forgot, I ate it!

For the final season, the show focuses strictly on the home life of the Posts, which is made more interesting when Carol's grumpy and uptight father Mr. Higgins (Barry Kelly), who appears occasionally through the entire series, apparently moves in with Wilbur and Carol during the final episodes. He never stopped loathing Wilbur since his quirky eccentricity clashes with his emotionless and uptight personality, and he never stops trying to persuade Carol to leave Wilbur, whom he refers to as a "kook" because of his klutziness. The whole thing is good clean silly fun in the tradition of GREEN ACRES, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, and PETTICOAT JUNCTION.

MISTER ED is an American television situation comedy produced by Filmways that first aired in syndication from January 5 to July 2, 1961 and then on CBS from October 1, 1961 to February 6, 1966. MISTER ED was the first series ever to debut as a midseason replacement. The entire six year MISTER ED series of 142 episodes was filmed in black and white. According to Arthur Lubin, the show's producer, Alan Young was chosen as the lead character because he "just seemed like the sort of guy a horse would talk to." Lubin, a friend of Mae West, scored a coup by persuading the screen icon to guest star in one episode. It's hilarious when Mister Ed moves in with the movie star.

The concept of the show was similar to FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE (1950), with the equine normally talking only to one person, and thus both helping and frustrating its owner. Arthur Lubin also produced the 1950s FRANCIS film series. Mister Ed (1949-1970) was voiced by ex-B-movie cowboy star Allan "Rocky" Lane speaking and Sheldon Allman singing, except his line in the theme song, which was sung by its composer, Jay Livingston. Ed was voice-trained for the show by Les Hilton. Lane remained anonymous and the credits list Mister Ed as playing "Himself". However, his real name was Bamboo Harvester. Ed's stablemate, a quarter horse named Pumpkin, who was later to appear in the television series Green Acres, was also Ed's stunt double in the show. There are a few conflicting stories regarding the death of Mister Ed. Connie Hines retired from acting a few years after the show's cancellation in 1966, but she and Alan Young still make public appearances together.

The cast also includes: James Flavin (SIA Agent J.G. Slattery), Richard Deacon (Dr. Stekel, the Shrink), Joe Conley (Photographer), Barbara Morrison (Customer), Elizabeth Field (Bank Teller), Logan Field (Hogan), Richard Reeves (Charlie, Union Truck Terminal Worker), Hazel Shermet (Lady in Shower), Ben Welden (Joe, Union Truck Terminal Worker), Frank Wilcox (Dr. Chadkin), Ray Kellogg (Frank), Karl Lukas (Charlie), Nick Stewart (Mailman), Robert Nunn, John Qualen, Donna Douglas, Lee Goodman, Mary Carroll, Henry Corden, Rolfe Sedan, Howard Wendell, Jay Ose, Olan Soule, Al Checco, Neil Hamilton, Hugh Sanders, Chick Chandler, Norman Leavitt, Robert Carson, George N. Neise, George O'Hanlon, Coleen Gray, Ray Walker, Peter Leeds, Raymond Bailey, Elvia Allman, Eleanor Audley, George Barrows, Les Tremayne, John Hale, Jack LaLanne, Karen Norris, Doris Packer, Anthony Warde, Don Brodie, Carole Evern, Henry Norell, Chris Hughes, Percy Helton, Robert Anderson, Riza Royce, Willard Waterman, Ricky Star, Gail De Cossi, Robert Patten, Ginny Tyler, Butch Patrick, Moyna MacGill, Sharon Tate, Bill Baldwin, Irwin Charone, June Whitley Taylor, Oscar Beregi Jr., Henry Brandon, Nobu McCarthy, and Michael Ross. The original music was composed by Jack Cookerly and Dave Kahn. There were 11 screenwriters, most notably Lou Derman (128 episodes). There were 5 directors, most notably Arthur Lubin (128 episodes).

The theme song was written by the team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, and sung for the show by Livingston, who was not the first choice. Only the music was used to open the first six episodes, but when a professional singer could not be found, Livingston agreed to sing the lyrics, because the producers were so pleased with his vocals, and he was never replaced.

The series was sponsored from 1961 to 1963 by Studebaker Corporation, a now-defunct American car manufacturer. Studebakers were featured prominently in the show during this period. The Posts are shown owning a 1962 Lark convertible, and the company used publicity shots featuring the Posts and Mister Ed with their product (various cast members also appeared in "integrated commercials" for Lark at the end of the program). The Addisons are shown owning a 1963 Avanti. Ford Motor Company provided the vehicles starting at the beginning of 1965. It is also interesting to note that in the first episode ever aired, the Posts are driving a 1961 Studebaker Lark.

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 admitted in 2004 that he had started that story himself, and explaining the actual method used. In an interview on April 7, 2007 on radio station 3AW, Melbourne, Australia, he admitted that a loose piece of Nylon was inserted under Mister Ed's lip which the horse attempted to remove on his trainer's cue. Mister Ed was so well trained that the insert would be ignored until the required cue. Examination of Mister Ed footage shows that the "marionette theory" (pulling strings to make him talk) was at work at least some of the time. Excerpts exist from a few episodes where the lighting and camera angle reveal a visible nylon "bit" being pulled for each word Ed spoke. Young denied this occurred in the radio interview. Some may claim a nylon bit was needed in order to have Ed turn his head or perform some other movement without his trainer having to be in the camera shot, but the evidence is that the bit was also used when Ed was standing still and merely had to talk. Young finally admitted during his interview for the Archive of American Television that a string was pulled to make Ed talk, noting that "this is for the Archive, right?" before explaining that he had used the peanut butter fable for years in radio interviews instead of telling the truth.

MGM Home Entertainment released two Best of collections of MISTER ED on DVD in Region 1. Volume 1 was released January 13, 2004 and contains 21 episodes. Volume 2 was released March 8, 2005 and contains 20 episodes. Season 1 has 26 episodes and the previously released Best of MISTER ED Volume 1 only has four shows from Season 1 with the Best of Mister Ed Volume 2 having none, indicating 22 of the 26 shows will be new to DVD. Due to poor sales, further volumes were not released. The quality on the Best of MISTER ED DVD's Is very good. MGM also released a single-disc entitled "Mister Ed's Barnyard Favorites" on July 26, 2005 which contains the first eight episodes featured on Volume One. On October 6, 2009, Shout! Factory will release the complete first season of MISTER ED on DVD in Region 1. Judging by the pattern of other CBS and Filmways programs of the era, it is possible that some episodes from the early seasons may have fallen into the public domain.

In 2004, a remake was planned for the Fox network, with Sherman Hemsley as the voice of Mister Ed, David Alan Basche as Wilbur, and Sherilyn Fenn as Carol. Sara Paxton and Danny Pope were also in the show written by Drake Sather and directed by Michael Spiller. The pilot was filmed, but was not picked up by Fox. The show's writer and producer, Drake Sather, committed suicide shortly before the pilot's completion.

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