Monday, August 13, 2018

“Mr. Ed”: A Horse is a Horse

In television’s early years, most of its comedic programming centered around the family unit. Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show and many others derived laughs from family situations. With the sameness of such programming, some television producers sought to make their pitches stand out from the pack. Would a show with a talking horse stand out? Mr. Ed creator Arthur Lubin hoped so.

Arthur Lubin had been directing the lucrative Francis the Talking Mule series of feature length pictures for Universal Pictures and thought that the concept would make a successful transition to television. The series was about an army mule who would only speak to a young soldier, thus making many people think he was crazy. Lubin wanted to acquire the television rights and produce a weekly series. Universal, however, was unwilling to sell the rights at any price; though the series had fizzled out by the late 1950’s, it thought that the series might possibly make a comeback. Thus Lubin would get his first setback in his quest to get a Talking animal program produced.

Hard to say who is the biggest jackass in this picture.

Lubin could have just changed the name of the mule and pushed forward with his project, but since he was the director of five Francis films and had tried negotiating with Universal Pictures for the rights, a copyright case against him would have been a slam dunk. His secretary found an answer to this problem- a series of children’s stories by author Walter Brooks about a talking horse named “Mr. Ed”. Lubin could buy the television rights from Brooks to protect himself from any litigation from Universal. The gambit worked. Lubin, using financing from George Burns, produced a Mr. Ed pilot.

The initial pilot started Scott McKay as Wilbur “Pope”, who owned the titular Mr. Ed. Lubin proudly carried the pilot around town, trying to sell it to network television. He was soundly rejected. Sure, the pilot was unlike anything the networks had ever seen, but while Lubin had seen that as a positive, they saw it as a negative. He would have to come with a new strategy to get his talking horse on television.