Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Star of 'Mister Ed' Dies at 78

In 2009, when it seems more celebrities than usual have died — and, for all we know, there may be more to come in the last eight days of the year — the death of a 78–year–old actress, whose most famous role was in support of a horse, probably would merit little attention.

We've seen many higher profile people die this year. Not all were from the world of entertainment, but many of them were. And in that more narrowly defined universe, there have been bigger names than Connie Hines' — Jennifer Jones and Brittany Murphy, in recent days alone — on the obituary pages in 2009.

That's understandable. In the 1960s TV series Mister Ed, all of the humans, even Ed's sidekick and straight man Wilbur Post, took second billing. But Hines didn't seem to mind.

Alan Young, who played Wilbur, said it was a "tough chore" to play Carol Post. "She was a girl married to a fellow listening to a horse. Her biggest line was 'Lunch is ready.' The rest of it was reacting to it. Connie never complained. How many actors would react that way?"

Playing Carol Post may not have been very challenging, but Hines did it for all six seasons, nearly 150 episodes. And when reruns of the show enjoyed a renewed popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hines relished the adoration of a whole new audience.

"I still get letters and now they're from 4–year–olds and 5–year–olds, and it's just wonderful," she said. "People stop me on the street and they say, you know, 'Thank you for being my babysitter.' "

Even in death, Hines may have been treated as an afterthought. She actually died in Beverly Hills, Calif., last Friday, but it wasn't reported publicly until it was confirmed this week by Young. That could have been deliberate.

But then, when it was confirmed that she had died, the Los Angeles Times incorrectly reported her birth date as June 5, 1930, when it was actually March 24, 1931 — and, consequently, initially reported that her age at her death was 79 when, in fact, she was 78.

We don't know the whole story behind that one, either. It was not uncommon for performers of Hines' generation — men as well as women — to give out false birth dates (for publicity purposes) that made them seem younger than they really were.

But that isn't the case here. The date originally given as Hines' birth date made her appear older. I must conclude, therefore, that the mistake originated elsewhere. Perhaps it was the newspaper's fault, perhaps it was someone else's.

I suspect Hines would have shrugged that off, though.

"She was always joyous," Young said. I have no reason to doubt that.