Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book Review: I Am Mister Ed...Allan "Rocky" Lane Revealed

Allan Lane was a busy working actor for over 36 years, including voicing the title character of a popular TV series, yet relatively little was known about the man behind MISTER ED, the magical talking horse. That's now changed thanks to the very fine detective work done by Linda Alexander for her new book I AM MISTER ED...ALLAN "ROCKY" LANE REVEALED.

I have fond memories of watching MISTER ED reruns as a young child, and in recent years I've enjoyed Lane in a variety of programmers such as MAID'S NIGHT OUT (1938), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), and CONSPIRACY (1939). I was thus quite interested to learn more about him thanks to author Alexander, having previously enjoyed her books A MAVERICK LIFE: THE JACK KELLY STORY and RELUCTANT WITNESS: ROBERT TAYLOR, HOLLYWOOD, AND COMMUNISM.

Allan Lane was talented enough to work steadily in the acting business for decades, including a run of several years as a cowboy star nicknamed "Rocky," yet his temperament was such that his marriages were brief and he was not always a popular coworker, considered a loner who had rigid expectations and didn't always engage easily in on-set interactions. At the same time, he was kind to children and beloved by close family and friends. He took care of his mother financially, and as "Uncle Harry" (his real name) he was idolized by nieces and nephews.

Alexander digs deep into his past looking for answers and gathers evidence supporting the interesting possibility that Lane may have had a form of what is now known as Asperger's syndrome, which prevented him from always responding appropriately in social situations. It's a theory suggested by his niece, a specialist in autism spectrum disorders, in her forward.

The book is of value not only for the information Alexander digs up on Lane's life and career but as an example of what it's possible for a determined biographer to learn decades later, when many possible sources are no longer alive. She was able to pull together enough information to paint a picture of Lane's rough childhood, holding down a job as early as seven years old. Based on what's known, it wouldn't be surprising if his difficult formative years without a consistent home also impacted his ability to form relationships.

Alexander separates fact from fiction in his studio biographies; no, he didn't play football for Notre Dame, and no, his mother didn't sing light opera. The author was also able to put together Lane's marital history, much of which is missing from reference sources such as IMDb.

One of the most intriguing stories is that in the early '30s he wed one Betty Miller; around the time she and Allan divorced in the mid '30s, she changed her name to Joan Perry. Actress Perry married Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, in 1941 and her previous marital history was "deep sixed."

I pulled out my copy of the 1967 biography KING COHN and was amused that Bob Thomas referred to Joan's previous brief marriage to a "photographer she had met while modeling." That "photographer" was actually the well-known Allan Lane, who took a sabbatical from films in the early '30s and operated a business, Allan Lane Inc. Photographic Illustrators, taking photos for ad campaigns.

The book notes that Lane almost didn't play MISTER ED after the pilot, as he was considered "difficult" and too much of a loner. Other actors auditioned but ultimately it was felt none of them had the right voice, and Lane was satisfied to draw a regular paycheck without disclosing he was the voice behind the horse; indeed, he felt doing such voice work was somewhat beneath him, but gave it his professional all.

This illuminating book will be very much enjoyed by all who are interested in Allan Lane or the workings of classic-era Hollywood and television.

I AM MISTER ED...ALLAN "ROCKY" LANE REVEALED was published by Bear Manor Media. It's 315 illustrated pages including index, reference sources, and a list of Lane's credits.

Sincere thanks to the author for providing a .PDF file of the book for my review.


Blogger Jerry E said...

I am planning to receive this book for Christmas (!), Laura, so am very interested by your excellent review. I want it all the more now.

When looking at 'B' western stars, Allan "Rocky" Lane is in my Top 5 as his films mark a high point in B-western film-making for good scripts, consistency from start to finish, even when budgets were cut and more stock footage used. His "sidekick", though that term is a misnomer in this case, was played mostly by the fine character actor, Eddy Waller, eschewing the sillier antics displayed by many others.

It will be good to learn more genuine facts about the private man as well as the Hollywood era that Lane was involved in.

Thanks again.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I feel sure that you will be interested to learn more about Allan Lane thanks to this book. I appreciated your thoughts on his "Rocky Lane" films as I have not yet seen any of them. Sounds like I have more good "B" Westerns to look forward to.

Best wishes,

1:41 PM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

I also enjoyed the Mister Ed TV series, and once read that the producers did not want to give Lane a credit so as to preserve the 'mystique' of Mr Ed's voice. Yet Lane brought such personality to the Mr Ed character, solely through his vocal characterization; it's the most memorable part of the series. Voice work is much more appreciated today, and it's nice to see Lane get his due.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

Mister Ed was one of my favorite shows as a kid. I looked forward to watching it every week when aired in syndication. Who would have guessed that horses voice came from such a handsome fellow. I'm not really familiar at all about Allan Lane, but it sounds like he had an interesting life.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Grand Old Movies and Robby, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your memories of MR. ED.

GOM, you're right, the producers wanted to preserve the "magic" of the talking horse and since Allan felt it was kind of a comedown jobwise I think that worked out OK. As you say, voice work is much more appreciated today! It took talent to do that job well and Lane certainly had it.

Best wishes,

7:02 PM  
Blogger Crocheted Lace said...

Don't forget "King of the Royal Mounted", a great Republic serial. Top notch adventure with Lane as Sgt King of the RCMP. Loads of fun!

9:49 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older