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'Mister Ed' star is still riding show's popularity

When he was first approached about sharing billing with a horse on a new TV show, Alan Young wasn't interested.

"I told them I didn't like working with someone who couldn't clean up after himself," Young said with a soft chuckle during a recent phone interview. "Actually I didn't like the original script. It just wasn't funny."

After the script was redone, though, Young changed his mind. And so, in the fall of 1961, he showed up as the lead human star on "Mister Ed," which ran on CBS for four seasons.

The show has never really gone away. It currently airs (at 9:30 a.m. weekdays) on cable's TV Land, and it has just joined the rapidly growing number of TV series popping up on DVD. "The Best of Mister Ed" (MGM, $29.98) is now available in a two-disc set featuring 21 episodes culled from the first three seasons.

Young said he never imagined that, more than 40 years later, folks would still be watching "Mister Ed."

"That sort of thing just never crossed our minds back then," he said. "I was just grateful to have a job."

On the show, Young plays architect Wilbur Post, who with his wife, Carol (Connie Hines), moves from the city to a supposedly more tranquil country life. Their new home comes with everything they need and more -- including a horse named Mister Ed who can talk.

Of course, Ed won't talk to just anyone, only to Wilbur, which makes for some awkward and usually funny situations. Supplying the voice for Ed was Allan "Rocky" Lane, who had been in movies since 1929 and became a popular cowboy hero as the star of 51 Western films from 1944 to 1953.

"Because he had been a star at one time, Rocky didn't want his name to appear on the credits," Young said. "But after the first year, when the show had become a success, he went to the producers and said he would like a credit line.

"They told him no because kids in the audience were writing to Ed and thought the horse could really talk. They gave Rocky a nice raise instead, and he seemed to be happy with that."

During filming, Lane would stand just off camera and talk for Mr. Ed while Young and the horse were doing a scene together.

"It really helped to do it like that," Young said. "Having Rocky there made me feel sometimes like I really was talking to the horse."

Long before "Mister Ed," Young had been a successful and popular performer. He was born in 1919 in England of Scottish descent and grew up in Canada, where he became infatuated with radio. He began writing and performing on the air while still a teenager. That led him to America, where "The Alan Young Show" ran from 1944 to 1949. The next year, the comedy variety show moved to television; Young picked up an Emmy for it in 1951. By the time the show ended its run in 1953, Young was doing a lot of work -- mostly comedies -- in the movies.

Young has never stopped working. He supplied the voice of Scrooge McDuck in dozens of Disney animated tales. And he wrote the script for the popular "Mickey's Christmas Carol." "I thought that turned out nicely," Young said in a bit of an understatement. "My health is just fine, so I plan to keep on working."

Despite all of his accomplishments, Young's greatest claim to fame will probably always be his work on "Mister Ed." But he doesn't mind.

"Oh, it's nice to be remembered for something," Young said.

He paused and then laughed.

"You know, I once asked our director, Arthur Lubin, why they chose me to play Wilbur. He said, `Well, Alan, you look like the kind of a guy a horse would talk to.' "

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