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Francis and Friends

John W. Pinkerton


Okay, I confess: I was crazy about Francis the Talking Mule.  He was perfect for me in the 50’s: I was a kid and had a sense of humor.  What was not to love?

Francis starred in Francis (1950), Francis Goes to the Races (1951), Francis Goes to West Point (1952), Francis Covers the Big Town (1953), Francis Joins the WACS (1954), Francis in the Navy (1955), and Francis in the Haunted House (1956).

Francis’s mouth moved, and it looked as though he were actually speaking, and he had some pretty funny things to say.

Chill Wills, another favorite of mine, provided the voice for Francis. I always associated Chill’s deep, rugged Western twang with mules.  How else would a mule sound?

Donald O’Connor, popular funny man and hoofer (pun intended) was the co-star with Francis in six of the seven films.  Actually, Francis was really Molly which to me seems a good reason to have considered her for an Academy Award.   Tootsie certainly didn’t hurt Dustin Hoffman’s career.

Molly’s trainer was a fellow by the name of Les Hilton.  Now there is some dispute as to how Les got her to move her lips.  One story involves peanut butter, but the more likely one is that Les used a thread fed into the mule’s mouth which would cause Molly to move her lips in an effort to remove it.  Les used the same method later with TV’s Mr. Ed (Bamboo Harvester) the talking horse, of course, of course (again, pun intended).

The only other movie I remember where an animal’s mouth actually moved to look as though he or she was talking was a camel in Road to Moracco, one of the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road movies. The camel only had one line, “This is the screwiest picture I was ever in,” but it brought the house down.

With the arrival of digital manipulation, it has become fairly common to see animals appear to talk, but surprisingly most only think out loud.

The best of the digital talking animals is Babe in Babe (1995).  Babe was quiet chatty as well as many of the other farm animals.

Although talking animals in films and on television are more common today, Francis is the one who made me laugh the most, but…I was just a kid at the time.