Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


In 1941, novelist and screenwriter Mary O'Hara published the first of a trilogy that would prove to be her most enduring work.  My Friend Flicka (followed by Thunderhead in 1943 and The Green Grass of Wyoming in 1946) tells the story of ten-year-old Ken McLaughlin of the fictional Goose Bar Ranch in Wyoming at the turn of the century.  Ken is a dreamy child, much to the exasperation of his practical father, who raises throughbred horses on the ranch.  After Ken comes home from boarding school having failed his classes and doomed to repeat the fifth grade, his mother convinces his father to give the boy a horse to raise for a year in order to teach him some reponsibility.  Ken chooses a spirited filly whom he names "Flicka" (Swedish for "little girl").

O'Hara's trilogy was turned into three successful films from 1943 to 1948, starring Roddy McDowell as Ken.  The original book was reimagined in a 2006 reboot with Ken renamed Katy; two original sequels followed.  McDowell and Rita Johnson (who played Ken's mother) reprised their oringal roles in a June 1943 episode of Lux Radio Theater.  In 1956, My Friend Flicka hit the small screen at CBS as a replacement for Gene Autrey's The Adventures of Champion, which had lost in the ratings to ABC's The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.  (Flicka, too, could not stand up to the Rin Tin Tin juggernaut and was cancelled after one season of 39 episodes.)  NBC first aired repeats in 1957-8.  Later, all three major networks re-aired the series, mainly as Saturday morning fare.  Disney reaired the series in the mid-1980s.  "Over the years, many viewers were unaware that the series produced e;isodes for onle a single season."

Ken was played by Johnny Washbrook, who went transitioned to minor television roles and then into banking where he became a senior loan officer.  Ken's father Rob was played by Gene Evans, a burly actor who had recurring roles in television's Matt Helm and Spencer's Pilots, and appeared in such films as The Steel Helmet, Park Row, and Operation Petticoat.  ACharacter actor Frank Furgnita Louise, who played Nell, Ken's mother, had an acting career that lasted almost a half century, from 1922 to 1970; she was also noted as a Hollywood "social lioness" whose parties were attended by most of the top names in Hollywood.  Character actor Frank Ferguson (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Johnny Guitar, This Gun for Hire) was one of those faces you saw everywhere but had a hard time putting a name to, as in the case of his playing Gus, the McLaughlin's farmhand.  Ferguson was also an acting coach and had coached Dana andrews, George Reeves, Robert Preston, and Victor Mature, among others.  Flicka herself was played by a horse named Wahana -- evidently a one-shot wonder with no further credits on IMDb.

In the show's premiere episode, "One Man's Horse," Flicka is stolen by horse thieves.


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