A couple days ago I learned that actor Alan Young passed away.
He played a number of roles over a long career in TV and is best known for playing Wilbur, the straight man to Mr. Ed, the talking horse on the sit-com of the same name. He also did quite a bit of voice work for cartoons, most famously as Scrooge McDuck on the fabulous Duck Tales cartoon. (WOO-oo).
However it’s a different show that I will always remember him for, Battle of the Planets.
When I was in first grade, Battle of the Planets was my favorite show. You hear of kids running home so they didn’t miss their favorite show? This one was mine. The show was a fabulous mix of elements including superheroes and Star Wars, all combined into an animated series that had character story arcs. That’s not unusual now, but in 1978 almost all cartoons were episodic in nature. This was something new, something no other cartoon series was doing. I was hooked.
Alan Young did two voices for the show; the first was the R2-D2-esq robot 7-Zark-7, who was a comedy relief and exposition character. The other was Keyop, the youngest member of the team, who had an odd speech quirk due to being grown in a lab instead of being born naturally.
I adored this show. I watched it on TV over and over and I caught all the reruns I could. I played G-Force on the playground with my friends, and even years after it went off the air I was still drawing pictures and dreaming up stories about the characters.
Years later, when I was an undergrad and diving headlong into the new World Wide Web, I found other fans of Battle of the Planets and its original Japanese version, Gatchaman, but it was devilishly hard to find copies of it. It wouldn’t be until many years later that small collections of episodes made their way to market on DVD.
It didn’t matter how long it had been, I was still a fan. I scooped them up.On the DVD extras they did interviews with several of the voice actors, including Alan Young. Young had a reputation for being a kind and genuine person, and it came through in his interview. Battle of the Planets had been just another job for Young. He came in, read his lines, did a good day’s work, and moved on. He’d never even watched the show and was quite honest that he’d mostly forgotten it. He had no idea that the series still had a devoted following, perhaps small but very dedicated. People like me, who had connected with it in a big way.And he was clearly delighted. Young had an expressive face, which served him well on shows like Mr. Ed, and you could tell that he was surprised and pleased by the questions he was asked and to learn about what this part of his career had meant to people. I don’t think he completely understood it, if anything he seemed shy about it, but watching that interview brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. I was glad to see how much he enjoyed learning that his work had meant something to the fans.