Oct 6, 2016

Wilbur and Ed in the Barn: The Gay Subtext of "Mr. Ed"

I never actually saw Mr. Ed (1961-1966) -- it was before my time.  But the older generation of baby boomers has fond memories of the story of newly-married architect Wilbur Post (Alan Young, 52 years old, not exactly a twink), who moves into a new house with a studio in the barn, and finds that the horse left over from the previous owner can talk.

Wilbur finds this a bit unusual, but doesn't question it.  Maybe he's seen the old Francis the Talking Mule movies, starring Donald O'Connor.

Or maybe he's just used to weird things happening.  This is the 1960s, when nearly every sitcom character has a secret to hide, from run-of-the-mill secret agents to witches, genies, and talking cars.

So Wilbur easily becomes resigned to his fate as a mild-mannered work-at-home husband with a guy in the barn that he can't tell his wife about.

Wait -- a relationship with a guy?  Hiding from your wife?  Sounds like a gay subtext to me.

Although Wilbur is "happily married" to Carol (Connie Hines), and Ed is aggressively heterosexual, courting many female horses, the subtext appears to be constant throughout the series.

Many episodes involve strains on the Wilbur-Ed relationship: 
Ed is captured by a sorority, and Wilbur must go in drag to rescue him.
Ed is upset because Wilbur won't take him to Hawaii.
Ed feels rejected so he joins the beatniks.

Others involve the presumed hilarity of a horse doing human things, from using a typewriter to surfing.

There were no "horse sized" jokes that I'm aware of, but Baby Boomer comedians have been more than happy to invent some.

Wilbur also has a number of older male friends of the 1950s-friendly-neighbor variety: Roger (Larry Keating), Paul (Jack Albertson), and Gordon (Leon Ames).  

Plus there were several celebrity guest stars, mostly from the older generation (Mae West, George Burns, Zsa Zsa Gabor), although Clint Eastwood made an appearance.

It sounds like a old-fashioned 1950s sitcom, aimed at the same sort of audience that would tune in to Jackie Gleason, but apparently kids were drawn in by the talking horse angle.  There were comic book and toy tie-ins.

Mr. Ed was voiced by 1950s Western star Allan Lane.  His singing voice was provided by Sheldon Allman, who also wrote two original songs for the series.

Alan Young, born Angus Young in 1919, had a long career on tv and in films, including the Golden Age of TV's Alan Young Show (1940-1944 in Canada, 1944-1949 in the U.S.)  In the 1980s he voiced Scrooge McDuck in Disney's Duck Tales.   He was married three times, and died in May 2016.

You're probably wondering about the clickbait top image.  An extensive search revealed no shirtless shots of any of the male cast members, but googling "Mr. Ed Allan Young shirtless" yields a photo of  1950s bodybuilder Ed Fury.