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Francis the Talking Mule starred in seven motion pictures

Bob Cox • Jan 8, 2018 at 8:50 AM

"Francis the Talking Mule" featured the hilarious escapades of a delightfully funny old Army mule, who just happened to talk similar to Mr. Ed (a popular CBS program about a talking horse that aired from Oct. 1961 until Feb. 1966).

Seven movies were produced from one of the most beloved comic series of all time. Donald O'Connor starred as the befuddled soldier, Peter Stirling, who is helped out of one thorny circumstance after another by the unlikeliest of heroes, his four-legged pal, Francis.

The smart-alecky talking mule enchanted audiences with his yackety-yakking, wise-cracking antics that the whole family could contentedly enjoy.

"Francis the Talking Mule," the beautiful and talented mule that starred with Donald O'Connor in six laugh-filled, rollicking major motion pictures (plus one with Mickey Rooney) was originally named Molly.

A little known fact was that Francis was a female that was portrayed to be a male. His (her) gruff voice-over was provided by the famous western character actor, Chill Wills. His deep, rough vocal texture and Western twang was perfect to the actor's cynical and sardonic role as a male.

The seven movies in its 5.5-year run included: "Francis the Talking Mule," "Francis Covers the Big Town," "Francis Goes to the Races," "Francis Goes to West Point," "Francis in the Haunted House," "Francis in the Navy" and "Francis Joins the WACS." Details of the plots were very predictably, with all movies filmed in glorious... black and white.

Francis worked on the Hollywood set under the big lights with other stars of the motion picture. He especially enjoyed working with people as opposed to mules. The animal was overly careful about speaking to the public without first consulting his overpaid press agent.

One person asked Francis if it was true that he earned a weekly salary of $125. He responded that, as far as he knew, that was his weekly salary, but of course, he had to give his agent 10% of the take and that certainly wasn't hay.

Francis (and, of course, Donald O'Connor) was routinely greeted by mayors, governors and radio and newspaper personnel. He was once quoted as saying that, although it seemed to be a unique experience to interview a mule, he took everything in stride.

One escapade of Francis, the talking mule, was portrayed in "Francis Covers the Big Town." As usual, Francis was supported by Donald O'Connor. In this installment of the comedy series, O'Connor goes to New York to break into the newspaper business. And of course he's accompanied by "his buddy," Francis.

Donald acquires a job as janitor for a newspaper and soon is promoted to copy boy. In that post, he starts giving tips to Nancy Guild, a society gossip columnist, and Larry Gates, top reporter of the paper. Gene Lockhart, the paper's managing editor, learns of O'Connor's tips and promotes him to reporter. He soon is the paper's star and writes stories of all kinds that he gets from Francis.

Some of the money scenes are those showing O'Connor being examined by a team of psychiatrists and one of the doctors encounters with Francis.

Universal's famous talking Army mule visited cities and towns to better afford him exposure to his ever-growing number of fans. When one reporter interviewed Francis, he came up with moans and groans rather than his usual answers.

Once, a correspondent asked Francis what he thought about Albany, New York. The mule looked through his long curly eyelashes, lowered his Hollywood type hairdo, then looked one reporter straight in the eye and said, "Aren't you rather putting me on the spot, after all this is politician Thomas Dewey's state."

Some people found it very difficult to talk with Francis because they said he became so much like a Hollywood star, reluctant to say anything without having his press agent nearby. Francis was an astounding animal, sporting a pretty shade of brown hair with black feet and a pale suntan nose. He showed absolutely no resemblance to his voice, Chill Wills.

My efforts to locate Francis's grave site came up short. Surely it is marked somewhere. Maybe one of my readers can determine his final resting place and share it with us. He certainly deserved one.

boblcox@bcyesteryear.com

www.bcyesteryear.com

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