In our previous article we were talking about the many uses that horses have in today’s society now that they’re seldom employed as work animals on a farm. Trail riding is certainly one of the most common, especially here in the Lake Worth area. Horses are also big business when it comes to racing, and they’re used by some sports teams as mascots. Others are kept around as trainers for horseback riding lessons. Some people use them as pets, and often those pets become show horses or are used in rodeos.
Horses have also been a staple of film and television for over a hundred years. While some have unfortunately been treated poorly, we’d like to focus on some famous horses of film and television that have been treated well and have been stars in their own right.
Okay, one of two things just happened when you read those words. One is that you’re too young to remember the show and don’t get the TVLand channel. Second is that the Mr. Ed theme song popped right into your head, with “a horse is a horse of course of course” being stuck there for the rest of the day.
The television show originally aired from 1961 until 1966 on CBS, totaling 143 episodes altogether. (Before that the character of Mr. Ed had appeared in short stories in print.) The Mr. Ed television show was originally going to be a TV series based on the Francis the Talking Mule movies, but the rights couldn’t be secured. They took the same basic idea and started shooting the television show.
Mr. Ed was always credited as “Himself,” causing many people to believe that the horse actor’s name was Mr. Ed. In fact, a horse named Bamboo Harvester played Ed for every episode. Bamboo was a quarterhorse and was such a good actor that they never risked him on stunts, instead using his stablemate named Pumpkin. The voice was provided by Rocky Lane.
So, how did they make Mr. Ed talk? The common story is that they used peanut butter on the horse’s gums, but it turns out that that was simply a ruse by the creators of the show in order to protect their true secret. In reality it was started by putting a nylon string in the horse’s mouth. Before long, though, that wasn’t necessary at all, and Bamboo would start to move his lips when a trainer touched his hoof. Even that wasn’t necessary after a while, because Bamboo would simply start moving his lips when the human actor stopped talking!
Trigger was perhaps the most famous movie horse or all time. His owner and primary rider, Roy Rogers, purchased this palomino stallion in 1943 to star with him in his first big screen feature. Up until Trigger’s death in 1965, Roy and Trigger starred together in dozens of movies and TV shows. Trigger even had his own comic book.
Everything suggests that Trigger and Roy had a true friendship. Trigger could do over 150 different tricks depending on cues they gave him by touching his head, neck, legs, or torso. In fact, it was joked that he was so smart that they were running out of cue spots! One of his most famous tricks was walking on his hind legs, up to 50 feet by some accounts.
Perhaps the most amazing trick Trigger performed was the one that people didn’t see. Trigger was one of the few horses to ever be housebroken! Roy Rogers and Trigger were one of the biggest draws off the screen as well, so they spent a lot of time on the road, performing in theaters and staying in hotel rooms. Because he was housebroken, Trigger was a much better guest than any other horse out there!
There was only one Trigger, and only one horse can claim the title of Mr. Ed (stunt horse notwithstanding). But the same can’t be said for Silver, the horse most well-known for being the Ranger’s horse. That’s because there have been multiple Silvers in over 70 movies!
The first Silver wasn’t even a horse! Because The Lone Ranger started as a radio series in 1933, the clip-clops of the horses (including Tonto’s horse Scout) and their braying would have been performed by a human. Those human performances dwarf the number of horse actors for the role of Silver, because there were nearly 3,000 episodes of the radio series produced.
From there the Lone Ranger hit film serials in 1938. For 66 episodes of movie theater shorts, the Lone Ranger was portrayed by Lee Powell. Silver, however, is not credited to any particular horse. Eleven years later came what is perhaps the most famous Lone Ranger known to modern audiences, with Clayton Moore in the title role (and later John Hart after a contract dispute with Clayton). This series ran from 1949 until 1957 and completed 221 episodes, cementing ABC as a viable television company. The first two Lone Ranger movies, The Lone Ranger and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, were both tied into this TV series. Unfortunately, no credit is given to the horses.
1981 saw the release of The Legend of the Lone Ranger. It starred Klinton Spilsbury (who?) and Christopher Lloyd (yay! Lloyd would go on to do quite a bit of riding in the third Back to the Future movie). This movie attempted to tell the origin story of the Lone Ranger, yet failed at breaking the habit of failing to credit the horses!
In 2003 a made-for-TV movie of The Lone Ranger was produced on the WB network in hopes of having it launch a series.Chad Michael Murray play the title role, but the movie was met with mixed reviews and didn’t garner enough attention to warrant a TV series.
That, of course, brings us to Disney’s 2013 Lone Ranger film, something we’d like to ignore but can’t. Everything about it should have worked: it had the Pirates of the Caribbean writers, director, and even Johnny Depp. Then again, it had Johnny Depp as Tonto just as his career started spiraling. The title character was this time played by Armie Hammer. The film ended up losing around $150 million, the most ever for a movie featuring carnivorous rabbits. Yeah, you read that right.
Phew, all those words and we only got through three of the most famous horses of film and television! Chances are we’ll be back some other time to talk about other famous horses on film, but for now we’d better just remind you that if you want to do some trail riding and pretend you’re riding Mr. Ed, we’d love to have you. If you’d like to get horseback riding lessons and teach your horse a few tricks like Trigger, we hope you’ll stop by.