When I heard that Alan Young, human star of the TV series Mister Ed had died at 96, I felt genuine sadness. Young played the bumbling but genial Wilbur Post, owner of a talking horse named Ed, in the series that ran from 1960-1966. If you are of a certain age, you watched this show as a kid and had no trouble believing that Ed could not only talk but out maneuver his human owner in every situation.
Young had a appeared on many other shows and even won an Emmy for The Alan Young Show, but his real ticket to fame would be playing straight man to a palomino that was like Samantha to his Darrin (from the old Bewitched sitcom with only Darrin knowing that his wife was a witch).
The most enjoyable but frustrating part of the show was that no one else ever heard Ed speak. So there was always this, “Who are you talking to, Wilbur?” situation when someone walked into the barn mid conversation between horse and man. The flustered Wilbur would then have to explain things – again and again – while Ed neighed and whinnied in his stall like a sly equine fox.
Ed always got himself into precarious situations that would require Wilbur’s intervention. Sometimes he would order something extravagant over the phone or say something rude that would be overheard by other humans, and it was usually Wilbur who suffered the consequences.
Ed (the voice of old cowboy star Allan Lane) had a distinctive and authoritative voice, and when he would drool, “Hello, Wilbur,” it was both funny and condescending – always a case of the horse showing the man who was boss. Ed also had a soft spot for Wilbur’s extremely pretty wife Carol (Connie Hines) who always seemed to think that her husband was rather eccentric or bumbling due to his tendency for pratfalls.
Ed also delighted in taunting Roger Addison (a perfectly cast Larry Keating) as the slightly haughty next door neighbor who (like nosy Mrs. Kravitz in Bewitched) knew something was up in that barn but had no idea that Ed was a talking horse.
Somehow or other Young was able to come off as the kind and affable guy with a talking horse, straight man to a palomino. It was clear that Wilbur not only loved Ed but that Ed loved Wilbur despite his taunting.
I think of the show fondly now and feel sad to know Alan Young is gone. You may think that a show about a talking horse was pure silliness, but it worked for six seasons of course, of course.
Rest in peace, Alan Young.
Photo credit: CNN