Thursday, January 23, 2014

Alan Young Interview, Part III

We continue with out interview with Alan Young, first conducted in 1995.

You're loved by millions of Baby Boomers for Mr. Ed. How did that come about?

Well, I had a variety show on the air in the 50s, and I wanted to go on film the way Jack Benny and George Burns and all the others were. And here I was, beating my brains out, doing it live. Unfortunately, they had me under contract to do it live, that's much cheaper, and the network just held me to that. Finally, I couldn't take it any more, and I wanted to go on film. So I approached director Arthur Lubin and he said, do my show! I asked him what it was about, and he said: "A talking horse!"

I was doing standup comedy then, and was a little flip, and said: "Well, I don't work with anybody who doesn't clean up after himself!" Thanks very much, and that was that.

Well, Westerns became very popular and quiz shows, and suddenly I was out of work for awhile, even though I worked for Howard Hughes and other things. I did Tom Thumb, it was cheap, but it was a job. When I got back from England, I met somebody at the airport who said Arthur Lubin was looking for me. At that point, I was ready to talk to a dog, a horse, a mongoose, anything! And that's how I got Mr. Ed.

They had done a pilot, George Burns produced a pilot of it, and it didn't sell. Some dear fan is going to send me a copy of it; I've only seen it once. So they ran the film for me, and though I saw the mistakes they made (they all knew what the problems were), I knew the fun I could have with it. They cut the film down to 15 minutes, and I went out with it to sell it with the agency to a Studebaker car dealership, to go into syndication. The networks wouldn't touch it, they had already seen it and turned it down, so it was going directly into syndication. George Burns staged the first three months of the show -- he wanted to get his money back so he made sure it was funny.

Who played your part in the pilot?

I've forgotten. I wouldn't want to say if I did know, he may be nurturing hurt feelings or something. (Laughs.) I don't think I had seen him before. In the pilot, they didn't concentrate on the horse, they focused on a bunch of silly people, doing funny things. It was like comedy shows today: jokes, jokes, jokes, and it just left the horse in limbo.

Arthur Lubin also did the Frances the Talking Mule films.

He did. Actually, Mr. Ed preceded that in Liberty Magazine stories. Walter Brooks wrote them. Arthur had them and he held them back for television, after he had sold the Frances series to Universal.

I had wondered why he just didn't adapt Frances for television.

That belonged to Universal.

Any anecdotes of Arthur Lubin, who recently passed away?

Yes, he did. (Sighs.) He was a character, that's all I can say about him. He was a very lovable character, but he was a character. He wanted to rush through and get things done quickly, and he didn't want to stay around the studio too long. I'll never forget one line he used. He didn't like people fooling around on the set, cracking jokes. He really didn't have a great sense of humor for a man who did so many comedies! I'll never forget when he said: "Stop that! Stop all this laughing! This is comedy, there's no time for laughter!"

Well, we just all broke up. He didn't realize what he said, he didn't care. The memories I have of him are very sweet memories.

He was well into his nineties when he passed away. Did you stay in touch?

We saw each other quite often. They wanted to revive Mr. Ed many times, like they did with other shows. But he and the producer, Al Simon, had money they hadn't folded yet, so they weren't interested in doing it and doing it wrong. 

They all owned a piece of the show, so do I, and I wasn't interested in seeing it screwed up in any way. We were looking for a good script; I think we found a few, but they weren't interested, so I just let it go.

I think Disney has taken an option on doing it, I don't know.

Mr. Ed has been a staple on syndication everywhere.

Oh yes!

Did you think the series would have this tremendous longevity?

Well, we didn't know then about reruns, and Nick At Night, and all those kinds of things. We just thought it would run for awhile. But then, when it began to play down a wee bit, along came Nick At Night and boom!, it's all over the world. It's not on in America any more, but they said it was the cutting edge for Nick At Night in the beginning.

The fellow who did the voice for Ed...?

Rocky Lee.

Was that recorded in advance, or looped over afterward?

No, they did it right then and there, as we did the show. He had a microphone offstage, and when the horse started moving his lips, he did his lines.

So he was there, feeding you your lines! I had no idea!

That's why I felt the horse talked to me. As far as I was concerned, we were two actors doing their jobs.

What actually happened to Ed, the horse?

He passed away quietly, in the trainer's barn, about 1975. I used to go up and ride and visit him every day. I went away for awhile and I came back, and Ed was gone.

One of the more unusual guest stars on the show was Mae West. Any memories of her, and how that all came about?

Well, she was a friend of Arthur Lubin, and she called him up and asked to be on it! She had never done television, and had never done any after that, but she said that I'd like to work with the strongest, most virile leading man in television, and that was Mr. Ed, of course. (Laughs.) That's how it happened.

She was very tiny, wasn't she?

Oh, she was a wee one. I remember that she was wearing this tight fitting dress, I guess it had stays and all of that, but I just know that when she turned, the dress stayed where it was and she moved around inside of it!

I'm sure she was well into her 60s at that point.

Oh, past it, I think.

We conclude our Alan Young Interview tomorrow!

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