Alan Young left us with a legacy that goes far beyond playing second banana to a horse on the comedy series Mister Ed — a role he took seriously and played with a remarkable sense of reality — but he also made contributions to the world of audio and animation, one of which is the stuff of legend.
His audio career includes his 1944 network radio variety series, The Alan Young Show, which introduced Kenny Delmar’s character of Counselor Cartonbranch, a precursor of Senator Claghorn on radio’s Fred Allen Show and Warner Brothers’ Foghorn Leghorn.
On the 1949 version of Young’s radio show, Jim Backus played Hubert Updike III with the affected nabob characterization that he had used a year earlier in the Bugs Bunny short A-Lad-In His Lamp. Both roles were antecedents of Backus’ Thurston Howell III on TV’s Gilligan’s Island.
The Alan Young Show would move to television in 1950, winning two Emmy awards and beginning Young’s long career as a pioneer in the medium.
His radio career resumed in 1994, playing Jack Allen on Adventures in Odyssey, which also included the likes of Will Ryan, Hal Smith, Corey Burton, Townshend Coleman, June Foray, Katie Leigh, Robie Lester, Pete Reneday, Steve Burns, Walker Edmiston, Dave Madden and many others among the “who’s who” of cartoon voice actors.
On the series, Young’s character married Joanne Woodston–played by none other than Janet Waldo–and the in-joke in the wedding ceremony episode was their character’s middle names: “Wilbur” and “Judith,” nods to Mister Ed and The Jetsons.
Young continued to appear on the series for the next 22 years, giving him the distinction of having one of the longest careers in scripted radio comedy and drama.
In animated cartoons, Young was a versatile utility man on numerous series (Batman The Animated Series, The Smurfs, Scooby Doo, Alvin and The Chipmunks, etc.) and in feature films (The Great Mouse Detective, The Blinkins) – not to mention his memorable roles as “Keyop” and “7-Zark-7” of G-Force in Battle of the Planets (the U.S. dub of anime hit Gatchaman).
But perhaps Alan Young’s most enduring cartoon voice was that of Uncle Scrooge McDuck. The world’s richest duck was best known in comics but did not have a voice until Dal McKennon played him on a vinyl record called Donald Duck and His Friends (1960) and Bill Thompson brought his voice to the big screen in Scrooge McDuck and Money (1967).
In 1974, Young wrote and produced an adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol for Disneyland Records. The album inspired Mickey Mouse’s return to theatrical cartoons in 1983 with Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Mickey’s first appearance in a theatrical short since 1952’s The Simple Things).
Young voiced Scrooge McDuck ever since, playing him for years in the long-running TV series Ducktales and its theatrical feature debut, Secret of the Lost Lamp — and in Disney Theme Park shows and various other products and projects ever since.
This made Alan Young’s one of the longest careers in a cartoon character role, right up there with Mel Blanc as Bugs Bunny and Jack Mercer as Popeye.
On records, Young was heard in MGM’s dialogue-based soundtrack album of George Pal’s 1957 fantasy tom thumb. Young was a particular favorite of Pal, casting him in The Time Machine (1960) as David Filby, for which Young spoke in his native Scottish burr he would later use for Scrooge. His work on Ducktales was adapted into four read-along book and cassette packages, narrated by another beloved and recently passed actor, William Schallert. Two episodes of Mister Ed were released on LP by Colpix Records as well.
The last person to boast about any of this would have been Alan Young himself, who was modest to the point of self-deprecation. He continued to work at his craft, always the personable professional, as long as his health allowed. He will be missed in this life, but his contributions to entertainment will forever make us smile.