Tales behind the Tails, Part II
Mister Ed: Total Prima Donna
Bamboo Harvester was already something of an equine star before he landed the role of Mr. Ed. Born in 1949, he'd traveled across the United States many times winning top awards in various horse shows (including the prestigious Madison Square Garden show). The Palomino was 11 when he was tapped to play TV's favorite talking horse. Ed (he quickly learned to answer to his character name) lived with his trainer, Les Hilton, on a large ranch in the San Fernando Valley, and was a quick study. He learned how to open and close doors, untie knots, wave a flag and hold an oversized pencil in his mouth while pretending to write. Like most stars, Ed had an understudy "“ a fellow Palomino named Pumpkin. Ed was a dedicated worker who craved the spotlight and the attention associated with it, so Pumpkin was only used on camera twice during the run of the series. Pumpkin occupied the stall adjacent to Ed at the Hilton ranch, and if a visitor spoke to or petted Pumpkin before acknowledging Ed, Ed would pull his stall door shut and sulk. In fact, when fans visited the set, Ed would refuse to perform if they dared to admire Pumpkin, so Les Hilton had to remove Pumpkin from the set when tour groups were scheduled.
Morris Head-butts his Way up the Corporate Ladder
Wisconsin native Bob Martwick was a self-employed animal trainer who supplied most of the non-human stars for TV commercials in the Midwest. He regular prowled pounds and rescue facilities in search of photogenic animals, which is how he happened to find an orange tabby in a Chicago area shelter. The cat had been extracted from a fight and had a torn eyelid and was scheduled to be euthanized. Martwick adopted the tattered Tom and named him "Lucky." When the folks at Nine Lives were looking for a spokescat, Martwick sent Lucky into the boardroom alone. According to an attendee, Lucky jumped up onto the table, ambled up to the art director, head-butted him, and then sat back on the table, eyeing the startled exec. The director immediately declared that this cat was the perfect Morris because he demanded to be the center of attention. As Morris, Lucky flew first class and stayed in five-star hotel suites. But Martwick admitted that, like most cats, Lucky had more fun with an empty cardboard box than a four-poster bed.
Green Acres' Arnold, Never Barbecued
No doubt Hollywood's biggest ham was Arnold Ziffel, the "son" of Green Acres' Fred and Doris Ziffel. On the show, Arnold loved to play the piano, watch old Westerns on TV and play checkers. He also roller skated, drank lime soda from a straw, and won a prestigious prize for his painting "Nude at a Filling Station." In truth, certain camera angles revealed that the actor(s) portraying Arnold were actually female. That's because a succession of pigs had to be used as they literally outgrew the role, and sows tend to gain weight at a slower rate than hogs. Despite the wealth of 4-footers sharing the role, viewers didn't seem to care or notice and Arnold received more fan mail than any other Green Acres cast member. Arnold even appeared as the "mystery guest" on the game show What's My Line? As for the original pig superstar, that Arnold was trained by legendary Hollywood animal wrangler Frank Inn, who refused to have healthy animals euthanized. Inn ended up keeping the original Arnold as a pet once he retired from show business. Oh, and one more thing: those wrap party barbecue stories you may have heard? They're strictly urban legends. Succeeding "Arnolds" spent their golden years on the farms of Inn's friends.
Smuggled Chinese Cockatoo makes good on TV
Fred the cockatoo provided some comic relief to the hard-boiled detective series Baretta. The 14" tall bird answered the phone with a human-sounding "hello," hung upside down from his perch to imitate a drunk, and could drink from a bottle. Fred was played by Lala, a cockatoo who was found by Los Angeles customs officials being smuggled inside a cage full of chickens from Hong Kong. He was given to animal trainer Ray Berwick, who named him "Lala" because at first other than intoning "la la la la," the bird only spoke Chinese. However, Berwick discovered that his bird (estimated to be about 20 years old) was a prodigy; he immediately began imitating the cat and dog sounds he heard from his master's menagerie, and he soon learned how to ride a tiny bike and walk on a treadmill. After Baretta went off the air, Lala was a featured performer at Universal Studio's animal show. He lived to the ripe old age of 70.
Want more back stories of TV Animals? Click here to see the Tails behind the Tales, Part I.