"Hello, I'm Mr. Ed!" That familiar, whinnying message kicked off every episode of Mister Ed, which ran from 1961 to 1966 on CBS. Based on short stories by Walter R. Brooks, the sitcom starred Alan Young as Wilbur Post, the flustered architect who owns, inexplicably, a talking horse. The comedy in Mister Ed was primarily a two-man set-up: cheesy, teasing banter between Wilbur and Ed. So who was the other actor in this dynamic duo? The show's credits listed Mister Ed as being played by, simply, "Himself."
"A horse is a horse of course, of course
And no one can talk to a horse of course.
That is of course unless the horse
Is the famous Mister Ed!"
-- The Mister Ed Theme Song, sung by Jay Livingston
When Mister Ed premiered in 1961, it appeared as something of a residential farce. In the pilot episode, newlyweds Wilbur and Carol Post (Connie Hines) move into a new California home where Ed has been left behind by previous owners. Ed then reveals he can talk -- but only to Wilbur. From there, the horse becomes not only Wilbur's friend but his confidante and obsession. In turn, Ed defines the relationship through rapid-fire, ironic put-downs neighed with enough indignation to make you forget he's a horse! It is, easily, one of television's oddest relationships. (Read more on that, in this fascinating piece from Slate.)
Playing the human at heart of it all, Alan Young became a star. But what of his snarky conspirator? His spirited Palomino partner? Ed was portrayed by a horse named Bamboo Harvester. Bamboo Harvester performed Ed's many, human-like stunts through careful training. But the talking horse, of course, is remembered more for his lip-curling voice. (Legend has the crew put peanut butter in Bamboo Harvester's mouth to make him mouth lines.) That was provided by a voice actor named Allan "Rocky" Lane.
Throughout the series, the production company alluded to Lane as "an actor who prefers to remain nameless." But that was not exactly true. Once Mister Ed became a success, Lane, naturally, demanded credit. But instead, he accepted a raise. Thus his name was lost to history. So who was Allan Lane?
Read More: Trivia You Never Knew About Mister Ed
Allan "Rocky" Lane: the Voice of Mister Ed
Allan "Rocky" Lane was born in Indiana in 1909 and grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He began acting in films when he was just 20 years old. Lane first appeared as a romantic lead alongside Hollywood darlings like Shirley Temple, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, and Ginger Rogers. In 1938, he was cast in The Law West of Tombstone and quickly earned a reputation for portraying the tough cowboy characters who dominated B-movie Westerns. In 1946, Lane replaced Wild Bill Elliott in the role of Red Ryder and reprised that character in six more films. He began to go by the nickname "Rocky," a moniker which came to define Lane's identity as children's products -- like comic strips, toys, and "Rocky Lane Posse" patches --were then marketed using his name and likeness. As Rocky, Lane continued to appear in various projects. By 1966, he had acted on-screen 106 times -- not including the series Mister Ed, to which he lent his iconic voice beginning in 1961.
Lane died of cancer in 1973, at age 64, while living in California. Posthumously, in 2003, he won the TV Land Award posthumously for the category "Favorite Pet-Human Relationship." Over his long career in cinema, Lane's career hit heroic highs as well as bit-part lows. And sadly, he is not remembered for perhaps his most enduring role: Mister Ed. But his voice continues to delight viewers as Mister Ed runs on in syndication.
What About the Horse?
After the 1960s sitcom ended, Young continued to visit Bamboo Harvester at his retirement stable near Los Angeles. Over the course of filming their television show, Young grew close to Bamboo Harvester and was protective over the creature. The horse's trainer Les Hilton was a protege of the legendary performer Will Rogers. Hilton maintained a caring but the authoritative relationship with Bamboo Harvester; Young has that Hilton was like a father to Bamboo Harvester. Young, on the other hand, was like a mother. The actor has described their unique understanding of one another. Despite rumors that peanut butter was used to make the horse's mouth move in conversation, in fact, Bamboo Harvester was smart enough to notice when Young was done speaking. That's when he'd start "talking"!
Young says that Bamboo Harvester died after incorrectly being fed tranquilizers while Hilton was out of town. But reports differ. Some accounts allege that Bamboo Harvester was euthanized in 1970, four years after the end of the TV show. Others say that Bamboo Harvester was put down after suffering from health issues at the age of 19.