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Alan Young, ‘Mister Ed’ Star, Dies at 96

Alan Young, who gamely played straight man to a talking horse for five years in classic sitcom “Mr. Ed,” died Thursday at the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 96.

On the series, which ran from 1961-66 on CBS, Young played architect Wilbur Post, who was married to Carol (played by Connie Hines, who died in 2009) and kept a horse, Mr. Ed, in their suburban stable. Mr. Ed, voiced by Allan “Rocky” Lane, would speak only to Wilbur, but given Mr. Ed’s rather outlandish personality and the superbly mild affect of Young’s Wilbur, just who owned whom could occasionally be a matter of debate.

Young also voiced Scrooge McDuck and numerous other animated characters, as well as guesting on dozens of TV shows.

In 2005 “Mr. Ed” won a TV Land Award for most heart-warming pet-owner interaction. Young also directed four episodes of “Mr. Ed.” The show was one of the first to start in syndication, achieve success, then get picked up by a network.

While he will be most remembered for “Mr. Ed,” Young had a long and busy acting career.

Young was second billed — behind Rod Taylor but ahead of Yvette Mimieux — in the 1961 hit film “The Time Machine,” the adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel in which Young played the loyal friend to Taylor’s George, who builds the machine and time travels.

Young was clearly fascinated by the Wells work: He appeared in a small role in the 2002 “Time Machine” remake starring Guy Pearce and directed by Simon Wells, a direct descendant of H.G., and in the 2010s, when he was in his early 90s, Young was recording the narration of an animated film, to be released in April 2015 and called “The Time Machine Alan Young.”

He took a long break from showbiz after “Mr. Ed” — 10 years, during which he drove across America — then returned to TV, guesting on the brief series “Gibbsville,” appearing in feature “The Cat from Outer Space” and transitioning into a career that primarily consisted of doing voice work for television animation series. His specialty was a Scottish accent, and eventually he became the fourth voice performer to be officially handed the task of voicing Scrooge McDuck since Dallas  McKennon did it in the 1960s. He first voiced Scrooge McDuck in a 1983 short called “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” and later did so on the “DuckTales,” “Mickey Mouse Works” and “Raw Toonage” series, 1990 feature “DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp” as well as TV movie “Super DuckTales.”

Young had lent his voice to Disney even before starting the animation work, sharing a 1977 Emmy nomination in the best recording for children category for “Disney’s A Christmas Carol.”

Other animated efforts to which he lent his voice included feature “The Great Mouse Detective” as well as the series “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo,” “Battle of the Planets,” “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Dukes,” “The Smurfs,” (series), “Alvin and the Chipmunks” (series) and animated TV movie “A Flintstone Family Christmas.”

He also made guest appearances on “The Love Boat,” guested on the series “Down to Earth,” made appearances in various roles on “ABC Weekend Specials,” made the obligatory stop on “Murder, She Wrote” and appeared on “St. Elsewhere” in 1987. He was a  series regular in “Coming of Age,” a sitcom about people living in a retirement community in Arizona; in the show he was paired with the British actress Glynis Johns. He guested on “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “Coach”; he appeared in the “Hart to Hart” telepic “Home Is Where the Hart Is” and the feature “Beverly Hills Cop III” and guested on “Party of Five.”

Young was 74 at  this point and not remotely slowly down — he would work for, more or less, another 20 years. He also voiced Haggis McHaggis on “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”

Meanwhile, in the live-action world, he made appearances on the “Wayan Bros.” series, “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and “The Tony Danza Show.” He appeared on an episode of “ER” in 2000 in which he played a nursing-home resident who flashes back to a traumatic event during the Korean War and causes some mayhem in the ER. He guested on “FreakyLinks,” returned to the role of Wilbur Post for an episode of “God, the Devil and Bob,” and starred in a 2004 telepic called “Em & Me,” in which he played a senior, thought senile by his family, who takes off on a road trip.

Young did videogame voice work as well starting with “The Curse of Monkey Island” in 1997. Between 2008 and 2013, he voiced Scrooge McDuck in four Disney videogames: “Disney TH!NK Fast,” “Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep,” “Disney Magical World” and “DuckTales: Remastered.”

Alan Young was born Angus Young in North Shields, Tyne-and-Wear, England, but the family moved to Scotland and then to Canada.

He was performing on the radio by age 13; by 17 he had his own radio show on Canada’s CBC. The show, which also aired in the U.S., led to an invitation to perform on American radio, where he had his “Alan Young Radio Show” from 1944-49. After his show was canceled (and radio was fading in general),  Young assembled a comedy act and toured the U.S.

Meanwhile, the young actor made his screen debut with a supporting role in the 1946 film “Margie,” followed by “Chicken Every Sunday” and Mr. Belvedere Goes to College.”

Moving to TV, he wrote a pilot for CBS in 1950, resulting in live variety revue “The Alan Young Show” that earned him a best actor Emmy in 1951. He was also nominated for outstanding personality.

He did not, however, give up on feature films. He starred with Dinah Shore in the musical “Aaron Slick From Punkin Crick,” and he played Androcles in “Androcles and the Lion,” a film that also starred Jean Simmons, Victor Mature and Elsa Lanchester, among others. He also had a prominent role in sequel “Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes,” starring Jane Russell. A few years later, he was second-billed in George Pal’s fantasy film “tom thumb,” starring Russ Tamblyn.

With Bill Burt, Young wrote the autobiography “Mr. Ed and Me,” which was published in 1995.

Young’s first marriage to Mary Anne Grimes in the 1940s ended in divorce. Young married Virginia McCurdy in 1948 but after a period of separation they divorced in 1995. He was married to Mary Chipman from 1996 to 1997.

He is survived by four children.

Contributions may be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund and to Y.E.S. The Arc, a residential program for persons with special needs.

 

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