RIP Alan Young, Horse-Whisperer to Mister Ed

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Alan Young, the owner/horse-whisperer of the talking horse Mr. Ed in the Sixties sit-com of the same name, has died at age 96. As a sign how cheesy TV-production values were in its Boomer Era “golden age,” but also how bizarrely funny, here is my favorite Mister Ed episode, which I actually remember seeing as a kid.

The clip below is cued to start with the big climactic scene: Mr. Ed getting a hit off the then-transcendent Sandy Koufax, at Dodger Stadium. “Cheesy” doesn’t begin to describe the special effects, but there is a timeless screwball charm to the set-up.

The episode as a whole is worth seeing, for both good and bad time-capsule reasons. It begins with the then-and-still transcendent Vin Scully broadcasting a game. As Gregory Orfalea noted in a wonderful appreciation of Scully last month on our site, Scully’s timbre, eloquence, grace, and poetry were the background music of that place and time. My sense of childhood summer-nights in Southern California is inseparable from hearing Scully talk about Koufax, Drysdale, et al over the AM radio. Leo Durocher, Willie Davis, John Roseboro, and other eminences of the day also star in the episode, which is stitched together with Scully broadcasts.

There are less charming aspects of the time capsule. In a WSJ review today in the WSJ of Michael Lahey’s The Last Innocents, a book about those 1960s Dodgers, John Schulian points out some of the plantation politics and economics of the day, when great black stars like Roseboro and Maury Wills were in various ways made to know and keep their place. I thought of those during a now-cringe-inducing part of this Mister Ed episode, with (the in real-life fearless) Roseboro shinnying wide-eyed up the backstop to get out of the way of a big horse sliding into home plate. The gender roles are also an un-selfconscious version of Mad Men.

But in these ways it is a representative sample of the America of 50-plus years ago. It’s an episode worth knowing about, and a loss worth noting.