Friday, 20 May 2016

The Late Great Alan Young

Alan Young, the actor and comedian who will forever be remembered as Wilbur on the classic TV sitcom Mister Ed and the voice of Scrooge McDuck for the past 42 years, died yesterday at the age of 96

Alan Young was born Angus Young in North Shields, Tyne and Wear, England on November 19 1919. His parents were Scottish. The family moved to Edinburgh, Scotland when Angus was only a toddler. They moved to West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada when he was six. From when he was ten to about seventeen he was often bedridden with bronchial asthma. As a result he listened to radio shows, such as The Jack Benny Program, a good deal. He developed a talent for imitating accents. This talent led to him becoming a regular on the Saturday night radio show Bath Night Revue when he was 13. It was not long before he both starred in and wrote scripts for CJOR's programme Signal Carnival. Alan Young also played a wide variety of parts in CJOR's various radio dramas.

In 1942 Alan Young went to the CBC where he appeared on their programme Stag Party. Initially on the show for a 10 minute comedy spot, Mr. Young eventually appeared for the whole duration of the programme. It was in 1944 that he went to New York City to do a summer replacement show for The Eddie Cantor Show on NBC Radio. The Alan Young Show proved successful enough it became a regularly scheduled programme on ABC that fall. The show continued to air on ABC until October 1946, when it moved back to NBC. It was off the air in 1948, but returned for a final season in 1949 on NBC. The Alan Young Show was a situation comedy on which Alan Young played a timid, young man. His girlfriend was Betty, originally played by Jean Gillespie and later played by Louise Erickson. The legendary Jim Backus played  Hubert Updike III, an insufferably snobbish, playboy millionaire, on the show. In 1950 Alan Young was Jimmy Durante's sidekick on the final season of The Jimmy Durante Show.

Alan Young made his film debut while still performing on radio. In 1946 he made his film debut in the comedy Margie. In the late Forties he went on to appear in the films Chicken Every Sunday (1949) and
Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949).

It was in 1950 that Alan Young moved to television and CBS. The Alan Young Show was a variety/sketch comedy show that debuted on April 6 1950. Initially The Alan Young Show proved very successful in the ratings. It also won two Emmy Awards, one for Best Variety Show and one for Alan Young for Best Actor (both in 1951). For its final season The Alan Young Show changed formats as well as it title. Under the title Time to Smile it became a sitcom on which Mr. Young played a bank teller and Dawn Addams his girlfriend. It would revert to being a variety show for its last two weeks, but it was too late. The show was cancelled at the end of the season.

In the Fifties Alan Young guest starred on the shows General Electric Theatre, Screen Directors Playhouse, Star Stage, Studio One, Matinee Theatre, Chevron Hall of Stars, Studio 57, The Steve Alan Show, Five Fingers, Encounter, and Startime. In 1958 he once more briefly had his own show. Alan Young ran for six episodes on ITV in the United Kingdom. During the Fifties Alan Young also had a somewhat significant film career. He played the lead role in the films Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952) and Androcles and the Lion (1952). He played multiple roles (Charles Biddle, Mrs. Biddle, and Henry Biddle) in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955). In George Pal's Tom Thumb (1958) he played Woody, a friend of Tom's family. In The Time Machine (1960) Alan Young once more played multiple roles, that of David Filby and David's son James Filby. It was Alan Young who had the film's famous final lines.

The Sixties would see Alan Young appear in what its probably his most famous role. The sitcom Mister Ed was based on a series of short stories by Walter R. Brooks. An earlier pilot with Scott McKay playing Wilbur had failed to sell. After the show was sold into syndication it was retooled and recast, with Alan Young taking over the role of Wilbur Post (it had been Wilbur Pope in the unsold pilot) and Connie Hines cast as his wife Carol Post (Carlotta Pope in the pilot, played by Sandra White). On the show Wilbur was the owner of the horse of the title, Mister Ed, who could talk, but would only do so to Wilbur. Unfortunately Mister Ed was both mischievous and precocious and was constantly getting Wilbur into trouble.  Mister Ed was played by Bamboo Harvester and voiced by Rocky Lane.

Mister Ed proved successful enough in its first season in syndication that it was picked up by CBS as one of the network's new shows for the fall of 1961. While never a ratings smash, the show developed a loyal following while still in the air. Mister Ed was cancelled 1966, but went into syndication that fall, where it has remained ever since.

While still on Mister Ed Alan Young made a guest appearance on Death Valley Days in 1962. He played the lead role of Stanley H. Beamish in the pilot for Mister Terrific, but for whatever reason he did not appear in the series when it was picked up (Stephen Strimpell was cast in the part instead).  In 1967 he appeared on Broadway in The Girl in the Freudian Slip. The play proved to be a failure, closing after two nights. Alan Young then retired from acting. He became communications director for the Christian Science Church's Boston headquarters and he founded a broadcast division for the church.

In 1974 Alan Young returned to acting. For Disneyland Records he wrote and produced an adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol featuring Disney characters in the roles of Dickens's characters. As might be expected, Scrooge McDuck (also known as "Uncle Scrooge") played the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge. It marked the first time that Alan Young provided the voice of Uncle Scrooge. In the Seventies Alan Young would find further voice work in the animated series Battle of the Planets (an Americanised adaptation of the anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman), on which he played Keyop and 7-Zark-7. He provided various voices for the Hanna-Barbera series Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo. He guest starred on Gibbsville and The Love Boat and appeared in the TV film Black Beauty. He appeared in the feature films Baker's Hawk (1976) and The Cat from Outer Space (1978).

In the Eighties Alan Young continued to voice Scrooge McDuck, providing the voice for the character in the popular animated series DuckTales as well as the TV movies DuckTales: The Treasure of the Golden Suns and DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. He also voiced him on the TV show The Wonderful World of Disney and the film Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983). He was a regular on the TV show Coming of Age. He provided the voice of Farmer Smurf on The Smurfs, the voice of the Cyclops Computer on The Incredible Hulk; and various voices on Rubik, the Amazing Cube; The Dukes; and Alvin & The Chipmunks.  He guest starred on This is the Life; The Love Boat; Down to Earth; St. Elsewhere; General Hospital; City and Murder, She Wrote. He provided voices for the TV movies Beauty and the Beast, Robo Force: The Revenge of Nazgar, and Alice Through the Looking Glass. He was the voice of Hiram Flaversham in the film The Great Mouse Detective (1986). He appeared in the film Platinum Blonde (1988).

In the Nineties Alan Young continued to be the one and only voice of Scrooge McDuck. He provided the character's voice in an episode of the animated series Raw Toonage, the direct-to-video film Disney Sing-Along-Songs: The Twelve Days of Christmas, the TV series Mickey Mouse Works, and the direct-to-video film Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas. He was the voice of  Haggis MacHaggis on The Ren & Stimpy Show. He was a guest voice on the animated TV shows Batman: The Animated Series, and Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man. He guest starred on the shows Doogie Howser, M.D., Party of Five, Maybe This Time, The Wayans Bros., Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, USA High, Kelly Kelly, The Tony Danza Show, Rude Awakening, Hang Time, and ER. He appeared in the TV film Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is. He appeared in the films King B: A Life in the Movies (1993) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994).

The Naughts saw Alan Young continuing to voice Uncle Scrooge, not only on television, but in video games as well. He voiced Scrooge McDuck in the TV show House of Mouse as well as the direct-to-video films  Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas and Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days. He reprised his role as Wilbur Post on an episode of the animated series God, the Devil and Bob. He was also a guest voice on the cartoons Static Shock and Megas XLR. He guest starred on FreakyLinks and Maybe It's Me. He appeared in the films The Time Machine (2002) and Em & Me (2004).

Alan Young's last credit was the voice of Scrooge McDuck in two episodes of Mickey Mouse (one last year and one this year).

It seems quite likely that Alan Young will always be remembered as Wilbur Post on Mister Ed. There is perhaps good reason for that. It seems to me that Mister Ed has lasted over the years largely because of Alan Young as Wilbur as well as Bamboo Harvester and Rocky Lane as Mister Ed. Alan Young was brilliant as Wilbur, the friendly but often clumsy and too accommodating owner of Ed.  Alan Young and Mister Ed made a great comedy team, so much so that even when any particular episode might not be that good, it is still worth watching simply due to their performances.

Of course, Alan Young will also always be remembered as Scrooge McDuck. Prior to Alan Young only two men had voiced Scrooge McDuck (legendary voice artist Dal McKennon on the LP record Donald Duck and His Friends and Bill Thompson in Scrooge's first on screen appearance in the 1967 short "Scrooge McDuck and Money"). After Alan Young voiced Scrooge in 1974 no one else ever voiced the role. Quite simply, Alan Young made the part all his own. It is then perhaps fitting that Alan Young's last credit was Scrooge McDuck.

While Alan Young will always be remembered as Wilbur Post and Scrooge McDuck, he did so much more. He saw some success in feature films, playing beloved roles in both Gentlemen Marry Brunettes and The Time Machine. Well before his success on Mister Ed, he had a successful radio show and a successful TV show. As a comedian Alan Young had a sense of humour that was both gentle and intelligent, to the point that while his first TV show as on TV Guide called him "...the Charlie Chaplin of television."

The characters played by Alan Young were generally kind, humble, and friendly, if a bit shy. In many ways they were much like Alan Young in real life. His manager for over thirty years, Gene Yusem, said of Mr. Young, "He was an honest, decent man, a pleasure to work with and never a problem." Fans who had the opportunity to meet him always noted his kindness, gentleness, friendliness, and good humour. In interviews he was always humble and often self-deprecating. It seems possible that Alan Young might not have realised how great his contributions to television and radio history had been. After all, it is not every comedian and actor who can boast a successful radio show and two successful TV shows, not to mention played two well known characters. Alan Young was a pioneer in the early days of television and had a very successful career in film and television, as well as a highly successful career as a voice artist. His contributions to film, television, and animation are inestimable. While many actors might be famous for a time, I suspect Alan Young will never be forgotten.

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