In the 1960s, the story of a man and his talking horse captivated the globe. The show was Mister Ed, and it followed the hijinks of a talking horse named Mr. Ed and his keeper Wilbur Post. The show became an instant classic, and the character of Ed has popped up everywhere from rap music and comedy sketches to children's shows.
Behind the character of Mr. Ed was a real horse. His name was Bamboo Harvester and he was already famous when he stepped onto the Hollywood scene. TV’s most famous horse was born and bred a star. Lighthearted and humorous at times, stubborn and imperious on occasion, the real Mr. Ed was a true trail blazer.
Like most celebrities, his death was untimely and shrouded in mystery. And in the wake of his passing we learned that while he could indeed be imitated, he was one of the greatest horse stars of all time.
This epic equestrian celebrity's story began in sunny California. He was born in 1949 to two purebred horses, and was eventually owned by Lester "Les" Hilton. His family came from a long line of purebred horses meant for show, and his father Harvester was one of the prized horses of the San Fernando Valley.
Bamboo Harvester was a beautiful and energetic horse that caught the eye of many. He also won awards and accolades as a show horse. While his most notable footprint - or should we say hoof print - in Hollywood was his performance as Mr. Ed, his California neighbors remember fondly for both his spirit and his spunk.
The pilot episode of Mister Ed featured a different horse entirely. In fact, the pilot was recorded with an entirely different cast altogether. This episode, titled "The Wonderful World of Wilbur Pope" never saw any screen time. If it had, this legendary series would have played out to a totally different tune.
After the Chestnut gelding initially cast as Mr. Ed had a bit of a breakdown, Bamboo Harvester stepped in for the second pilot, which featured the rest of the classic cast and became the first official episode to air on national television. It's hard not to help but wonder if his life would have been different (and maybe longer) had he not been bestowed with that lead part.
Even though in real life Mr. Ed was a non-talking horse, he had a lot to say. Having grown up in the limelight, his attitude matched that of his human counterparts. Subsequently, he was a bit of a diva. Bamboo Harvester was known to call it quits in the middle of a scene. He decided when the shoot was over by simply storming off stage and refusing to return.
He also had celebrity demands. They weren't quite as specific as bowls full of only blue M&M's, or an entirely vegan dressing room, although the latter would have been appropriate in this case. So what did he demand? Sweet tea by the gallon and 20 pounds of hay every day.
For years, mystery and intrigue surrounded how Hollywood made it look like this infamous horse was talking. Could he talk in real life, or were the cameras really magical enough to bring about such deception? In the 1950s, people really believed it was some otherworldy force (or intense training) that made it happen - although today we know the magic of movies can make just about anything possible.
But at the time, rumors began to fly about how the horse talked. One was that he had a mouthful of peanut butter. As hilarious an image as that conjures up, it turned out not to be true. The reality behind the talking magic was far less adorable. Hilton trained him to talk by moving his lips on cue, but he would only do it if Hilton was standing right there.
Directors decided to use a nearly invisible string to pull up the flap around his lips, hence making him appear to be talking. The strings were run through a halter Bamboo Harvester wore so they weren't seen in front of his face.