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[Alan Young 2004]
Alan Young Interview

January 6th 2004

Alan Young, the 84-year-old former star
of the classic TV series Mister Ed, has found
a second career in cartoon voiceovers.

By Ian Spelling

Just how big an impact did Mister Ed make on Alan Young’s career? His web site, mister-ed.tv, and those autograph signings where you just might hear him croon the TV show’s title tune give a pretty good idea of how big an impact was made.

And now, as they say, it’s déjà vu all over again as MGM Home Entertainment gets set to release a new DVD collection on next week entitled The Best of Mister Ed, Volume One, which corrals 21 episodes from Seasons One through Three of the long-running comedy. On the telephone from his home in Studio City, California, the 84-year-old Young happily reminisces about his days spent in the company of a certain selectively chatty palomino.

"What clicked on Mister Ed?" Young asks rhetorically. "I’ll tell you, it was just about everything. It was an age of innocence. It was just a fun show. I think people had had their fill of quiz shows by then. The quiz shows had been investigated for crookedness."

"People also had had their fill of westerns and shoot ‘em ups," Young continues. "So along came this show about a horse that talks. We thought it might be for the kids mainly, but everybody adopted it. So it was great, and it worked for years."

Young played Wilbur Post, the architect who’d just moved with his wife Carol (Connie Hines) to a new country home. Once there, they found a horse that had been left behind in the barn. Of course, of course, this was no everyday horse. Ed would converse only with Wilbur, which led to all sorts of shenanigans – Ed records a hit song, Ed falls for a lovely filly, Ed convinces Wilbur to provide for him in his will, Ed encounters Zsa Zsa Gabor and Clint Eastwood and George Burns, Ed becomes a beachcomber, Ed gets addicted to apples, Ed suffers the humiliation of posing as a zebra, etc. Along the way, Carol grew increasingly frustrated as her husband spent more and more time with his horse and not her.

"I think the very first episode ("The First Meeting") is up there with the best of them," Young says. "It’s just very funny. You’ve got the horse and you’ve got Connie. Connie Hines is just so beautiful. Those are the questions I’m still most often asked: How did the horse talk and is Connie Hines as pretty as she looked on the show."

"And I want everyone to know that Connie is still just as beautiful as ever," he adds with a laugh. "I see her once or twice a month at different shows we do, autograph shows and memorabilia shows."

And so far as the horse, as far as I was concerned he really did talk. George Burns was very familiar with Mister Ed because he staged the first 13 weeks of the show."

Young says Burns had a vested interest in the success of Mister Ed, as he personally underwrote a large portion of the pilot episode. "George really supported the show," recalls Young. "We used to do all of our rewrites in his office. We wrote a part for him in one episode and he said, ‘OK.’ He was a lovely guy."

"We had Clint Eastwood on the show early in his career, but I’ve never seen him since. He was a very good guest star. He’d do anything for us. Clint was a very good sport."

These days, audiences are used to the elaborate CGI effects on view in the likes of the Harry Potter, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies, not to mention any number of weekly television shows. Back in 1961, Mister Ed was at once convincing and low-tech; a nylon strip placed in Mister Ed’s mouth prompted him to move his lips.

Over time, when the horse saw Young talk, it just automatically started to "talk," even if the camera wasn’t rolling. "We didn’t want to use animation for the lips," Young explains. "We wanted to let people think the horse was talking, and how could you not think that when the horse was really moving his mouth? The audience knew the horse was really moving its mouth. So that was a great, simple effect."

Unfortunately, such great behind-the-scenes tidbits can’t be found on the Mister Ed DVDs. The two-disk set includes only the 21 episodes, no extras. It seems like a lost opportunity, especially since Young and Hines are both still alive, remain good friends and are always willing to reminisce about Mister Ed.

"Isn’t that silly?" Young says. "Everyone else did it (for other classic TV show DVD collections). People want to know how it was done, why it was done. We had some marvelous outtakes, but the producer had destroyed them all."

Anyone eager for details about Mister Ed or Young can check out both the actor’s site and/or his autobiography, Mister Ed and Me. In the meantime, Young shares an intriguing anecdote: "I had all sorts of Mister Ed props and a man came to me and said, ‘I’m going to start up a museum.’" Young recalls. "He said, ‘It’s going to be in Las Vegas and I’d like to get everything you have from the show so we can show it.’"

"My daughter said, ‘Oh Daddy, don’t give things away,’" adds Young.

"I wanted to get rid of some stuff because I live in a condominium and I was getting crowded out. So she said, ‘As long as he’s going to start a museum, fine.’ I used to save Mister Ed’s shoes and give them to charities."

Young donated four horseshoes, a jacket, a shirt, a hat and a number of other items only to discover that he might have been deceived. "The museum never started up and the next thing I saw on the news was some lady who’d gone to Sotheby’s and bought four of Ed’s horseshoes for $8500," Young says. "I’ve never been able to find this guy since, unfortunately."

"But I still have a few things," he points out. "I’ve got lots of photographs, of course. I have one horseshoe left. I have a sketch Al Hirshfeld did of Ed and myself, which I’m looking at right now. So that’s about all I have left, and I’m going to keep it."

Young may be most associated with Mister Ed, but he’s enjoyed a long and enduring life as an actor. Raised in Scotland, he started out in radio and then segued into movies and television, carving a niche for himself beginning in 1950 with The Alan Young Show, a variety program for which he won three Emmy Awards.

Young later achieved status as a cult film favorite thanks to his appearances in Androcles and the Lion, tom thumb and The Time Machine. And then he horsed around with Mister Ed for nearly six years. Once the show was put out to pasture, Young took some time off and better familiarized himself with his adopted homeland by driving across America.

By the late 1970s, he embarked on a new career and got animated as a voiceover performer. He’s been heard in everything from Scooby and Scrappy-Doo to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends to The Smurfs (as Miner Smurf) and The Ren & Stimpy Show. However, a much younger audience recognizes him as the voice of Scrooge McDuck in the feature Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the TV series DuckTales and House of Mouse.

"It’s a big thrill for me, I have to say," Young notes of his longevity and cross-generational popularity. "I’ll have three generations at once come up to me sometimes. I’ll have grandfathers, parents and their kids. I don’t mean to sound corny, but it’s very gratifying."

"The grandparents know me from The Alan Young Show or Mister Ed, and some of the very old ones know me from my days in radio," he continues. "But the parents know me from repeats of Mister
Ed and maybe some of the animated shows and movies. And the grandkids know me from DuckTales."

Young still voices Scrooge McDuck and he turned up in a cameo as a flower store worker in the 2002 remake of The Time Machine. He’s even got a new movie coming out. "At least I hope it’s coming out," Young jokes. "It won an award at a film festival in Monte Carlo. I won Best Actor. So people are saying a renaissance is coming for me."

"That would be nice, if only because this movie is a family film that has no explosions in it and no sex scenes," adds Young. "You may have to come to my house to see it, but it’s a very sweet picture. It was called Em & Me, for my character’s dead wife, Emily, but they figured that title wouldn’t go over in Europe. It’s now called Moondance."

Young plays a grandfather whose daughter, husband and their two kids think he is going senile because he can no longer keep up with them. But when he hears that they want to put him in a nursing home, he packs his bags and takes off to Ames, Iowa, where his wife is buried.

"In the film, my wife and I used to dance under the moon," Young explains. "I’m a little addled because I want to dance with her once more under the moon. So on this trek across the country I meet different people and not only do I change their lives, but they change mine. I get more sensible."


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This article was originally posted on the filmstew.com website. It's a terrific place, however, you do have to register in order to read many of their articles, including this one. That's why I've decided to reprint it here as well.