1. A classic novel by Mary O'Hara, first published in 1941 by Lippincott Press, Philadelphia. This famous children's story has been translated into several languages and continues to be reprinted. The original edition included illustrations by John Steuart Curry. The book centers on ten-year-old Ken McLaughlin during one summer on his family's ranch in Wyoming. He has just failed the fifth grade and his father, Rob McLaughlin, is even more exasperated with him than usual. The relationship between the strict, practical, former Army Captain and his young, dreamy, forgetful son had never been tranquil and Rob had just about given up hope that Ken would ever amount to anything. There had not been similar problems with Ken's older brother, Howard, who always got good marks in school, followed instructions, and never wasted a whole day staring off into space. Howard enjoyed making Ken's life difficult, too. The only person who seemed to be on Ken's side was his mother, Nell. From Boston, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, transported to the rough life out West after her marriage to Rob, Nell sees that her younger son is still very young and has much to learn about life. She believes that he is fundamentally different from both Rob and Howard and must be raised differently.
Ken's greatest desire in life is to have a horse of his own. He explains to Nell, "Oh Mother, it isn't just the riding. I want a colt to be friends with me. I want him to be mine--all my own." He dreams about his perfect dream horse all the time. Howard has a horse, Highboy, that he has trained himself and can ride around the ranch, but Rob doesn't think Ken has shown enough responsibility to deserve the same. However, Nell convinces Rob that maybe giving Ken a colt will teach him to be responsible and help him grow up a little.
On the ranch there is a band of brood mares, watched over by the stallion, Banner. A handful of these mares are the offspring of Rob's former polo pony, Gypsy, and a wild albino stallion. One, named Rocket, is crazy and breaks through fences, refuses to be handled. However, she is the fastest horse on the ranch, and Rob has kept her, hoping she would pass on her speed, despite her frequent violent outbursts and dangerous smashes through barbed-wire. When Rob finally allows Ken to choose any yearling on the ranch for his own, of course the boy falls in love with one of Rocket's offspring, a golden filly he names Flicka, which Gus, the ranch hand, tells him means "little girl" in Swedish.
Although Flicka is beautiful, it remains to be seen whether she will be a good horse or take after her loco mother. At first, things seem very grim when Flicka manages to break her way out of the stable through a glass window after she is first captured and brought in from the range. She is badly injured trying to escape and Rob becomes even more disgusted with his son for choosing such a worthless, untrainable animal. But Ken slowly nurses the filly back to health, conquers her fear of him, and she eventually appears to be on the road to a good life. Ken, meanwhile, is working hard to prove himself to his father. In the end, both horse and boy nearly die, but Ken definitely matures and Flicka turns into the perfect friend for him.
The landscapes of the novel are both real and fantastic. Mary O'Hara draws the mountainous countryside from her own life in Wyoming: the cliffs, the greengrass, the wind and storms, the heat and dust. The McLaughlin's Goose Bar Ranch is set between Laramie (where the boys attend school in the winter) and Cheyenne, and close to the Lincoln Highway, that great transcontinental artery. This setting is colored a bit from the 1920s or 1930s time period (e.g. the McLaughlin's maroon Studebaker) but a reader would hardly notice. In total, the novel tells a wholesome and heartwarming story of a young boy's coming of age.
Mary O'Hara wrote two sequels: Thunderhead (1943) and Green Grass of Wyoming (1946).
2. A movie made from the novel,1,2 released in 1943 (not rated), by 20th Century Fox. Directed by Harold Schuster, with music composed by Alfred Newman, and cinematography by Dewey Wrigley. It was filmed at Remount Ranch, Wyoming, where Mary O'Hara had once lived. Roddy McDowall starred as Ken, Preston S. Foster played Rob, and Rita Johnson played Nell. Other credits include:
The film is 89 minutes long, in color. I noticed only a couple of major changes from the book version. First, Ken's older brother Howard is replaced by Gus' young daughter Hildy. She speaks some of Howard's lines, but has some of her own, mainly complaints about not being allowed to do things because she's female. This change does not affect the plot because Howard was a minor character anyway, but it does drastically affect the interpersonal dynamics of the characters. I wonder why the change was made at all. The other change is less obvious. The stallion, Banner, is portrayed by a black horse although he was described as chestnut or red in the book. If a viewer was not familiar with the book version, or had not read carefully, he/she would never notice, but people who have carefully read the book would probably be surprised, as I was. Additionally, unless I am mistaken, the black horse on screen was female! Perhaps the scarcity of trained equine actors necessitated these substitutions.
Two sequels were made: "Thunderhead: Son of Flicka" (1945) and "Green Grass of Wyoming" (1948), both by 20th Century Fox.3
3. A children's Western television series based on the novel, the first such series produced by 20th Century Fox. The show ran first on CBS (in black and white) and then reran on ABC (in color) beginning in 1955. A total of 39 half-hour episodes were made, set on the Goose Bar Ranch in Wyoming (some reviewers seem to think Wyoming is part of Montana).4 Filming took place at the Upper Iverson Ranch North of Chatsworth, California.5 The cast included Johnny Washbrook as Ken McLaughlin, Gene Evans as Rob McLaughlin, Anita Louise as Nell McLaughlin, and Frank Ferguson as Gus Broeberg. Minor characters included Hildy Broeberg (played by Pamela Baird), Sheriff Downey (Hugh Sanders), and Jeb Taylor (Guinn Williams). Flicka was played by a horse named Wahama.6 The show's theme music, "Flicka M & E," was composed by Paul Sawtell, ASCAP.7
- 30 Sep 1955 "One Man's Horse"
- 07 Oct 1955 "Blind Faith"
- 14 Oct 1955 "A Case of Honor"
- 21 Oct 1955 "A Good Deed"
- 28 Oct 1955 "Cavalry Horse"
- 04 Nov 1955 "The Accident"
- 11 Nov 1955 "The Stranger"
- 18 Nov 1955 "The Wild Horse"
- 25 Nov 1955 "Rogue Stallion"
- 02 Dec 1955 "The Little Secret"
- 08 Dec 1955 "Act of Loyalty"
- 16 Dec 1955 "The Silver Saddle"
- 23 Dec 1955 "The Phantom Herd"
- 30 Dec 1955 "The Little Visitor"
- 06 Jan 1956 "The Golden Promise"
- 13 Jan 1956 "Black Dust"
- 20 Jan 1956 "The Night Rider"
- 27 Jan 1956 "The Settler"
- 03 Feb 1956 "Wind From Heaven"
- 10 Feb 1956 "The Whip"
- 17 Feb 1956 "The Runaways"
- 24 Feb 1956 "The Cameraman"
- 02 Mar 1956 "Old Danny"
- 09 Mar 1956 "Rough and Ready"
- 16 Mar 1956 "The Royal Carriage"
- 23 Mar 1956 "Mister Goblin"
- 30 Mar 1956 "Rebels in Hiding"
- 06 Apr 1956 "Lock, Stock & Barrel"
- 13 Apr 1956 "The Unmasking"
- 20 Apr 1956 "Refuge For The Night"
- 27 Apr 1956 "Against All Odds"
- 04 May 1956 "The Old Champ"
- 11 May 1956 "The Medicine Man"
- 18 May 1956 "When Bugles Blow"
- 25 May 1956 "The Recluse"
- 01 Jun 1956 "The Foundlings"
- 08 Jun 1956 "Growing Pains"
- 15 Jun 1956 "Lost River"
- 22 Jun 1956 "Big Red"
Also, general knowledge of the plot and characters comes from the novel itself and my readings thereof, and from watching the film.