Summary: The smartest of us sometimes forget to question things we hear when they come from a source of apparent authority. It is the duty of all people to turn on our bulldust filters, especially when we are listening to our Christian leaders.


Time for a quiz!

1. The cells which make up the antlers of a moose are the fastest growing animal cells in nature. (True)

2. The planet closest to the sun is Mercury (True

3. Pi to three decimal places is 3.142 (True. Not 3.141—this is a rounding error)

4. The second General of the Salvation Army was William Booth (True—trick question! The second General of the Salvation Army was William Bramwell Booth, but he was universally known by his second name to avoid confusion with his father.)

5. The animal who played Mr Ed was, in fact a zebra.

Who remembers the TV show Mister Ed? It was a sitcom back on the sixties based around a talking horse. When Mister Ed was first filmed, the producers had a very expensive problem. The horse cast as Mister Ed refused to perform on cue (if it performed at all), resulting in large bills for additional training and wasted footage.

The producers of the show were ready to throw in the towel and write off the venture when one of Mister Ed’s trainers came up with a solution: a nearby animal park had a trained zebra that was being used in live shows for the park’s daily tour visitors. The zebra (a female, called "Amelia") was trained to perform many of the same actions (e.g., opening and closing its mouth, stamping its feet on cue) required in the Mr. Ed role, and the animal park lent her out for a few days’ filming.

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 the animal park 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.

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: Mister Ed was always referred to as a "horse," and since the series was filmed in black and white, the viewing audience couldn’t tell the difference.

[At this stage I put up on OHP a picture of Mr Ed and a zebra. These pictures were entitled ‘How Mr Ed looks on Black and White TV’ and ‘How Mr Ed looks on colour TV.’ The pictures were taken from the Urban Legends web site, referred to later]

(The difficulty in resolving closely integrated black and white images on non-colour television receivers was one of the primary reasons AFL games were not regularly televised until the mid-1970s, when sales of colour TV sets started to outstrip those of black-and-white models. When black-and-white television predominated in the nation’s living rooms, viewers often complained because they couldn’t tell Geelong, Collingwood or North Melbourne players apart from the umpires. 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.)

Zebras are noticeably smaller than horses, so the set used for Mister Ed’s stable was built three quarter size so Mister Ed would appear larger than he really was. This gimmick also helped to mask the fact that Alan Young, the series’ star, was only a diminutive 5’4" tall.

Since a zebra’s gait is distinctively different than a horse’s, the rare episodes that called for scenes of Mister Ed running were filmed in long shots using real horses.

The substitution was an open secret around the industry, however, and continual sly references to zebras were worked into the show. In fact, for a joke there was an episode made in which Mr Ed pretends to be a zebra. Ed ran away to the zoo, leaned up against a newly-painted black fence, and hey presto! (Ironically, the photography crew actually had to shoot Ed’s "zebra" scenes for that episode in colour and then convert them back to black-and-white in order to make Mister Ed appear as a zebra to the audience!)

[This information is taken from the Urban Legends Reference Page at]

****Oh dear. Who didn’t turn on their bulldust filters?****

Okay. Let’s ask the question again. True or false: The animal who played the part of Mr Ed was, in fact, a zebra.

It’s interesting how many people changed their vote then! Why did you do that?

In actual fact, the whole story about Mr Ed being a zebra is an urban legend—it’s not true! There were one or two times when zebras were used in the show, but the vast majority of Mr Ed’s filming involved a Palomino known as Bamboo Harvester.

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