Claim: Mister Ed, the talking equine of television fame, was a horse.
Origins: Although the Mister Ed television show enjoyed a five-year run on CBS in the early 1960s, it was actually one of the very first series to start out in syndication and then be picked up by a network. (Mister Ed premiered as a syndicated show in January 1961, and CBS added it to their prime time schedule the following October.) Without network backing in the beginning, however, the show’s budget was extremely tight. During the filming of the pilot episode, production costs mounted as the
recalcitrant horse cast as
The producers of the show were ready to throw in the towel and write off the venture when one of the putative
Amelia worked out fantastically well, exceeding everyone’s expectations, and the pilot was quickly wrapped up and sold to the syndication market. The producers made a generous donation to Jungleland in exchange for continued use of Amelia, and she appeared in all the syndicated episodes as well as all the shows comprising the series’ entire five-year run on CBS. Amelia retired to Jungleland when
The show’s premise, of course, called for a talking horse, not a zebra. The producers felt the concept was already absurd enough without stretching credulity by having to explain why someone would have left a zebra (let alone a talking one) at a country house, so they chose not to explain it at all. They stuck with the original premise instead:
(The difficulty in resolving closely integrated black and white images on non-color television receivers was one of the primary reasons NFL games were not regularly televised until the mid-1960s, when sales of color TV sets started to outstrip those of black-and-white models. When black-and-white television predominated in the nation’s living rooms, football games were too often disrupted when players ran into the referees, whose black-and-white striped uniform tops made them nearly invisible to onlookers. Likewise, Johnny Cash’s famous televised live concert performance at California’s Folsom Prison in January 1968 proved disastrous when several inmates wearing the traditional black and white prisoner’s garb slipped unnoticed past guards, who had been provided only black and white monitors with which to view the proceedings.)
|How a zebra appears on color TV||How Mister Ed appears on black-and-white TV|
Click the button below to contrast the appearance of a Grevy’s zebra on black-and-white televisions with its appearance on color televisions.
Zebras are noticeably smaller than horses, so the set used for Mister Ed’s stable was constructed using forced perspective (the same technique employed on Disneyland’s Main Street) to make it appear larger than it really was (and thus make Mister Ed appear larger than he really was as well). This gimmick also helped to mask the fact that Alan Young, the series’ star, was only a diminutive
The substitution was an open secret around the industry, however, and continual sly references to zebras were worked into the show. The two most blatant examples were the episode of
When CBS switched to a primarily color prime time line-up for the
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Last updated: 16 May 2008