A horse is a horse of course of course… unless it’s the famous Mister Ed! Mister Ed (1958-1966) is an iconic sitcom for so many reasons. It’s one of the few television shows that was centered on a non-human star. It also called on the amazing acting skills of the horse, a palomino gelding named Bamboo Harvester. He was an American Saddlebred/Arabian cross trained by Les Hilton.
Only in the 1960s, could a television sitcom about a man and his talking horse captivate the country. The show followed the hijinks of a talking horse named Mister Ed and his owner Wilbur Post, a genial but klutzy architect played by handsome Alan Young. Mister Ed was voiced by Western film actor Allan Lane.
Mister Ed’s ability to talk was never explained, or ever contemplated much on the show. In the first episode, when Wilbur expresses an inability to understand the situation, Mister Ed offers the show’s only remark on the subject: “Don’t try. It’s bigger than both of us!”
The highly rated show boasted guest stars such as Mae West, Clint Eastwood, George Burns, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sebastian Cabot, and Jack LaLanne.
Bamboo Harvester was already famous when he stepped onto the Hollywood scene. He was born and bred to be a star: lighthearted and witty at times, stubborn and imperious on occasion. He was rumored to be bisexual, and was spotted around town with Francis The Talking Mule.
Ed’s stablemate, a quarterhorse named Pumpkin, also served as Bamboo Harvester’s stunt double. The ambitious Pumpkin scored his own regular role on the series Green Acres (1965-1971).
To create the impression that Mister Ed was having a conversation, Hilton initially used a thread technique, though, this became unnecessary. Young wrote in his memoir:
“It was initially done by putting a piece of nylon thread in his mouth. But he 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! He was very smart.”
Like many celebrities, Bamboo Harvester’s death is shrouded in mystery and innuendo.
When I was a kid, the theme song, imaginatively titled Mister Ed, was the ultimate earworm. It was written by team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and sung by Livingston himself.
The theme song received even more publicity two decades after the show went off the air when in 1986, a preacher from Ohio, claimed that it contained “satanic messages” if heard in reverse. The preacher said that the phrases “Someone sung this song for Satan” and “the source is Satan” could be heard. I am not certain what would make a good Christian man play a record backwards, but he got a bunch of teenagers to burn over 300 records and cassettes of secular music with alleged satanic messages. The teens refused to burn a copy of Television’s Greatest Hits with Mister Ed but the preacher asserted that:
“Satan can be an influence whether the songwriters know it or not. We don’t think they did it on purpose and we’re not getting down on Mister Ed.”
Wilbur: “What kind of name is Ed for a horse?”
Mister. Ed: “What kind of name is Wilbur for a man?”
Mister Ed is streaming on Hulu.