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Did you know that Mr. Ed was actually a zebra?

The Evil Genius

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Claim: Mister Ed, the talking equine of television fame, was a horse.

Status: False.

Origins: Although

the Mister Ed television show enjoyed a five-year run on CBS in the early 1960s, it was actually one of the very first series to start out in syndication and then be picked up by a network. (Mister Ed premiered as a syndicated show in January 1961, and CBS added it to their prime time schedule the following October.) Without network backing in the beginning, however, the show's budget was extremely tight. During the filming of the pilot episode, production costs mounted as the recalcitrant horse cast as Mister Ed refused to perform on cue (if it performed at all), resulting in large expenditures to cover the costs of additional training fees and wasted footage.

The producers of the show were ready to throw in the towel and write off the venture when one of the putative Mister Ed's trainers came up with a solution: the nearby Jungleland animal park in Thousand Oaks, California, had a trained Grevy's zebra that was being used in live shows for the park's daily tour visitors. The zebra (a female, called "Amelia" by its Jungleland handlers) 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 Jungleland consented to lend 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 Jungleland 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 on CBS. Amelia retired to Jungleland when Mr. Ed was cancelled after the 1965-66 season, where she lived for three years before being sold at auction when Jungleland closed in 1969.

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.

(The difficulty in resolving closely integrated black and white images on non-color television receivers was one of the primary reasons NFL games were not regularly televised until the mid-1960s, when sales of color TV sets started to outstrip those of black-and-white models. When black-and-white television predominated in the nation's living rooms, football games were too often disrupted when players ran into the referees, whose black-and-white striped uniform tops made them nearly invisible to onlookers. 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.)

How a zebra appears

on color TV How Mister Ed appears

on black-and-white TV

Click the button below to contrast the appearance of a Grevy's zebra on black-and-white televisions with its appearance on color televisions.

Zebras are noticeably smaller than horses, so the set used for Mister Ed's stable was constructed using forced perspective (the same technique employed on Disneyland's Main Street) to make it appear larger than it really was (and thus make Mister Ed appear larger than he really was as well). 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, a practice which has lead to the mistaken claim (cited in several fan-related publications and web sites) that a zebra was occasionally used on the show as a "stunt double." (In later years a Palamino horse named Bamboo Harvester would often be erroneously identified as having been the Mister Ed, but this horse was in fact only used for promotional appearances and publicity stills; it never actually appeared in the TV series.)

The substitution was an open secret around the industry, however, and continual sly references to zebras were worked into the show. The two most blatant examples were the episode of 21 March 1963, "Ed the Zebra," and the episode of 17 October 1965, "Anybody Got a Zebra?" The former episode was a joke-within-a-joke wherein a disgruntled Ed ran away to the zoo, leaned up against a newly-painted black fence, and started a new life as a zebra. (Ironically, the photography crew actually had to shoot Ed's "zebra" scenes for that episode in color and then convert them back to black-and-white in order to make Mister Ed appear as a zebra to the audience!)

When CBS switched to a primarily color prime time line-up for the 1965-66 season, both they and the series' producers were faced with a dilemma: keeping the show as a black and white entry would have presented a jarring contrast with the network's other shows, but switching to color would have given away the ruse. Eventually, a CBS executive came up with a clever solution: the show was moved out of prime time into the 5:30-6:00 PM slot on Sunday evenings for the series' final year, thus avoiding the necessity of its conversion to color.


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That is a whale of a tale my friend.

Did you see this one?



Claim: Mobile homes are so named because they can be moved from place to place.

Status: False.

Origins: Our

language is full of terms that misleadingly suggest geographic origins for common products. Panama hats weren't made in Panama, French fries didn't originate in France, India ink didn't come from India, and German chocolate cake was named after a person, not the country.

Far rarer is the reverse case, when a product's name does indeed reflect a geographic origin but over time has mistakenly become associated with a completely different meaning. The subject of today's article is one of the more prominent examples of this phenomenon: the mobile home.

[before we begin, let's define our terms to avoid confusion. In this discussion, the term "mobile home" refers to a prefabricated house that is hauled to a plot of land and (more or less) permanently situated there for use as a residence. We do not use the term "mobile home" to refer to a type of living quarters on wheels which is driven from place to place by vacationers, either as a self-contained unit (e.g., a Winnebago brand motor home) or as a trailer towed behind another vehicle.]

The origins of the mobile home are tied to the end of World War II. The rapid downsizing of the U.S. armed forces after the surrenders of Germany and Japan in 1945 brought back millions of servicemen (and servicewomen) to the United States from overseas in the mid-1940s, many of whom were coming of age and anxious to establish their independence, attend college, get married, and raise children. This demographic bulge, coupled with America's burgeoning post-war recovery from the Great Depression and a wartime economy, created an unprecedented demand for housing — both for standard residential units and for quarters to accommodate the many servicepeople who were taking advantage of G.I. Bill benefits to complete their educations at colleges, universities, and other types of schools.

The widespread use of military-style prefabricated housing eased the severe housing shortgage temporarily, and the eventual creation of suburbs such as Levittown took care of much of the long term need, but neither of these solutions addressed a potentially lucrative marketing niche — people who were dissatisfied with living in barracks-like housing but didn't want to (or couldn't) wait years for the construction of affordable suburban housing. It was James and Laura Sweet, a couple from Prichard, Alabama, (a town just outside of Mobile) who came up with the concept that fulfilled that market niche.

James Sweet, a machine shop supervisor by trade, was reportedly finishing off his workday lunch one afternoon in January 1946 when a newspaper article about the post-war housing shortage caught his eye. What if, he thought, someone could manufacture a type of housing that could be put together cheaply and quickly at a central location, but was small and light enough to be transported to wherever the purchaser wished to locate it? Something like the prefabricated structures of the era, but much nicer and more home-like — a prefab housing unit divided into discrete rooms (rather than one large open space) with all the electrical and plumbing fixtures already in place. They could be built as one- or two-piece units, then loaded onto flatbed trucks and delivered wherever the purchaser desired.

Sweet's wife, Laura, was a commercial artist who did illustrations for magazines, and she drew up a few simple floor plans according to her husband's directions. James Sweet built a couple of prototype units in his off-work hours to prove his concept viable, and then, satisfied with the results, used the couple's savings, mortgaged their home, and borrowed against his life insurance to establish Sweet Homes, a company dedicated to the manufacture and sale of prefabricated homes.

Sweet Homes was initially neither a smashing success nor a disappointing failure. Sales were modest to good, enough to keep the company in business and provide the Sweets with a nice living, but their marketing area was primarily limited to the Alabama/Mississippi region due to the difficulties involved in hauling their product across longer distances on the system of roads that existed in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Not until the passage of the Interstate Highway Act in 1956 and the resulting construction of thousands of miles of highways across the U.S. were the Sweets able to expand the reach of their business. Unfortunately for them, by the late 1950s they had plenty of competition, primarily from firms which had set up shop in the nearby Mobile area, where they could take advantage of a readily available, large, cheap (and primarily African-American) labor pool.

National advertising was still something of a rarity in the 1950s, but as the new national highway system enabled the sale of prefabricated homes to spread outwards (mostly to the north and west) from the Alabama/Mississippi area, more and more consumers were exposed to the houses, liked them, and began clamoring for their own "Mobile homes." Business boomed, more manufacturers entered the fray, and factories were established all over the U.S. to better serve local customers. Eventually whole communities of these types of homes (colloquially known as "trailer parks") were created all across the country, populated by homeowners who preferred them to more expensive and more closely-quartered suburbs full of site-built housing. (So ubiquitous did these homes become that by the 1970s Congress had enacted federal standards regulating their quality and safety.)

Over the years, however, as the generation who fought World War II aged and prefabricated homes became commonplace throughout the U.S., newer consumers were unaware that the appellation "Mobile home" was a geographic reference, a term coined in acknowledgement of the area in which the industry got its start. The name was more and more frequently rendered as a common compound noun ("mobile home"), leading many to mistakenly conclude that it referred to houses that were "mobile" — that is, movable from place to place. While "mobile homes" can indeed be transported, they are of course far from mobile — in the vast majority of cases they are never moved off the sites to which they are originally trucked. (Most "mobile homes," once situated, are moved again only if their owners replace them with newer models, or if they have to be removed because the land on which they sit has been converted to other uses.)

So, while we ponder the mysteries of how Panama hats, French fries, India ink, and German chocolate cake came by their misleading names, let us not forget that their poor cousin, the Mobile home, has been unfairly stripped of his home ties.

Trivia: The 1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd hit "Sweet Home Alabama" was a reworking of a 1951 radio jingle advertising "Sweet Homes, Alabama."


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Originally posted by WallyG3

That is a whale of a tale my friend.

Damn it Wally - I was trying to make a point...here is the point...curtesy of Snopes.

Claim: Common sense dictates that you should never fully rely upon someone else to do fact checking for you. But who has time for common sense?

Origins: If you're reading this page, chances are you're here because something about one or all of the entries in The Repository Of Lost Legends (TROLL) section of this site struck you as a tadge suspect, if not downright wrong.

If any or all of the stories in this section caused your internal clue phone to ring, we hope you didn't let the answering machine take the call. That niggling little voice of common sense whispering to you in the background was right — there was something wrong with what you read.

You've just had an enounter with False Authority Syndrome.

Everything in this section is a spoof. Mister Ed was no more a zebra than the origin of the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence had anything to do with pirates on a recruiting drive. As for Mississippi's doing away with teaching fractions and decimals in its school systems because kids find them too hard to master, that's no more true than Kentucky's imposing a licensing fee on uses of its name, Edgar Rice Burroughs naming his celebrated apeman after the city he lived in (other way around, actually), George Bernard Shaw penning a poorly-attended play called Closed For Remodeling, passengers on the Titanic viewing a 1912 silent version of The Poseidon Adventure while their doomed ship was sinking out from under them, or the design of California's flag being the result of "pear" being taken for "bear."

What is the point of the Lost Legends section, you say? Is it merely an exercise in creative writing, perhaps a way to blow off steam when the pressure of having to be mindnumbingly factual about everything gets to us? Does it provide us with a gratuitous opportunity to guffaw at how easily folks are duped into believing outrageous things? Or are we suicidally intent upon giving our valued readers good reason to doubt the credibility of everything else on the site?

Granted, a small part of the motivation to create such a section stems from our need to let a sense of whimsy get the better of us once in a while, and yes, some days the grind of having to be utterly factual about everything does weigh on us a bit. But the Lost Legends actually serve a higher purpose than merely existing as an out-of-the-way pasture a couple of writers can occasionally have a good frolic in.

This section graphically demonstrates the pitfalls of falling into the lazy habit of taking as gospel any one information outlet's unsupported word. We could have put up a page saying "Don't believe everything you read, no matter how trustworthy the source," but that wouldn't have conveyed the message half as well as showing through direct example just how easy it is to fall into the "I got it from so-and-so, therefore it must be true" mindset. That's the same mindset that powers urban legends, the same basic mistake that impels countless well-meaning folks to confidently assert "True story; my aunt (husband, best friend, co-worker, boss, teacher, minister) told me so."

No single truth purveyor, no matter how reliable, should be considered an infallible font of accurate information. Folks make mistakes. Or they get duped. Or they have a bad day at the fact-checking bureau. Or some days they're just being silly. To not allow for any of this is to risk stepping into a pothole the size of Lake Superior.

It's just as much a mistake to look to a usually-reliable source to do all of the thinking, judging, and weighing as it was to unquestioningly believe every unsigned e-mail that came along. Far too many have transferred the same breathlessly unbounded faith they used to accord various bits of e-tripe to those who make it their life's work to get to the bottom of crazy stories. It's sad to say, but the behavior of abdicating responsibility remains the same even though who is being believed has changed. It's still an abdication.

"You just keep on thinking, Butch; that's what you're good at," works as a life philosophy only if you're the Sundance Kid. And most of us ain't.

What does this mean, then — don't believe anything, no matter who researches and presents it? Hardly. When facts are needed, it's still right to turn to news and information outlets that have a proven track record for providing good information. The trick is to recognize the dividing line between "reliable" and "infallible" and thus learn how to avoid throwing oneself bodily across it. Or, in other words, don't throw the common sense out with the bathwater.

Common sense dictates that a black-and-white quadruped is still going to look like a zebra on a black-and-white TV, and all the authoritative-looking cites to the contrary shouldn't persuade one otherwise. Next time you're tempted to believe something that runs contrary to common sense just because someone knowledgeable touts it, remember Mister Ed. More folks than it bears thinking about turned their backs on their own common sense rather than disbelieve an outlet they'd lazily come to have unshakeable faith in.

The world is filled with information and misinformation, and picking a path through this minefield will never amount to finding the One True Authority to utterly rely upon. Figuring out which way is up will always require the use of common sense because, as we're about to see, even the authorities one would otherwise count on to always be dealing off the top of the deck will sometimes get it horribly wrong.

Professors sometimes pass along unverifiable rumor as if it were the truth (e.g. wild-ass speculation about a well-known actress' genetic makeup is routinely offered to biology classes as a factual example of a particular medical condition), and sometimes they impart off-the-wall claims to their students as the plain unvarnished truth. Textbooks themselves frequently include numerous factual errors.

Although seeking an education from those proveably more knowledgeable is a good thing, allowing that education to amount to "my teacher told me this, so it must be true" is a mistake of breathtaking magnitude. Teachers are people too, and they sometimes fail to do all the checking they should before presenting a informative tidbit to a class. Or they (like anyone else) rely on the certainty of a friend who imparted that particular tidbit. Either way, there's room in this formula for bad information to come from a good source even when the source has nothing but the purest of intentions.

Likewise, members of the clergy, police officers, and anyone else you might instinctively view as an inherently trustworthy authority figure have time and again proved they were just as capable as anyone of passing along misinformation as if it were fact. Witness the Vicar of Ewhurst's behavior in the Eric Clapton tale and examine the statements made by Father Michael Kennedy about a possible AIDS Mary in his parish for examples of the clergy taking a hand in furthering legends. Try to imagine from how many pulpits the Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Procter and Gamble, and "gay Jesus film" scares were delivered from.

As for the police, a quick look at the history of the Lights Out! hoax reveals how often this canard was passed along as 100% fact by the very group one would hope not only is always protecting us but also knows more about these matters than anyone. Some policemen have also over the years chosen to present impossible urban legends as incidents that happened to them (e.g., the RV Siphoner tale).

Okay, you say, so you can't trust individuals placed in positions of authority to always filter out every bit of misinformation that comes their way before passing it along to their students, parishioners, patients, and citizens. People are fallible, and it's reasonable to assume that at some future unspecified date any one of these presumed paragons will pass along as rock-solid fact some specious bit of knowledge they failed to first properly vet on your behalf. But what about monolithic entities such as wire services, highly respected newspapers, and television news shows? They have fact checkers on staff, and these news outlets are in the business of providing information you can trust, after all. Aren't they perfectly reliable?

The answer is no. Even the best of the best of them will at times drop the ball.

In 1988, UPI and Reuters were taken in by an exploding toilet story published by the Jerusalem Post and thus passed it along to every newspaper they fed.

In 1999, the locked-out pilot legend was vectored in the pages of the Chicago Tribune as a recent occurrence involving Air Zimbabwe.

In 1995 CNN devoted a segment to Mr. Bonuso and his Solomon Project, a legal supercomputer which supposedly would render the need for juries obsolete. Only after the segment aired did CNN discover that Bonuso was really Joey Skaggs, prankster extraordinaire, and the Solomon Project was his latest leg-pull.

In 1997 NBC Nightly News ran a piece on how to tell truth from hoax regarding Internet rumors. In a bizarre twist of getting the story backwards thanks to not reading the underlying material, the show's anchor assured viewers that some brands of cat litter are radioactive.

The hydrogen beer legend has been presented as fact by The New York Times (1996), the Boston Globe (1997), and the Washington Post (1999).

In a 2003 U.S. News and World Report article about tort reform, an apocryphal list of ridiculous lawsuits was presented as real.

Okay, so even the big boys have fallen off the beam at times, thus proving it's a mistake to worship at even their feet. What's an aspiring skeptic to do when common sense whispers one thing and a trusted source shouts another?

The answer is startlingly simple: Look for more information. That internal taffy-pull should be interpreted as a sign that more legwork is needed before a position — pro or con — can be adopted. Rather than arbitrarily throwing belief in either direction ("My teacher wouldn't lie" versus "My teacher must be wrong about this"), make the effort to find out which is right, this time by consulting a variety of sources.

Among other things (including providing a good read and some wonderful belly laughs), we hope this site helps our visitors learn to judge the quality of information presented to them. We'd like to think those who stop by here learn a little something about what steps to mentally take when pondering the eternal "hoax or true?" question. As wonderfully gratifying as it is to be regarded as infallible, we'd much rather see our visitors discover the key to their own abilities.

Are we being a bit too strident in our warning against succumbing to the allure of relying on others to do all of the vetting of suspect tales? Perhaps, but based on the number of puzzled messages we've received from incredulous readers who were surprised to discover that, in spite of what they read here, Mr. Ed wasn't really a zebra, we don't think so.

Barbara "Ed-ified" Mikkelson

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I never believed Mr. Ed was a Zebra for a minute. Zebras do not look exactly like horses.

Zebras cannot be trained or tamed. Which is why they've never been domesticated.

Then, when I got to the part about black and white TV and football players running into the refs and all that other stuff, I knew the article was a joke.

"You can't out-smart me, cause I'm a moron."

-The giant in a Bugs Bunny cartoon

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