In 1955, at the age of 11, I moved with my parents and older brother to San Diego from our small hometown village of Penn Yan, New York. With San Diego being ’out west’ as far as you could go, my childhood imagination led me to believe it would be similar to the western towns I’d seen in comics and films—like the Roy Rogers movies we had watched religiously for 25-cents at the Elmwood Theater’s Saturday matinee. The tall buildings and bright lights on San Diego’s Broadway were a great surprise to me—but no less exciting.
When My Friend Flicka premiered on television in 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President. The average worker in the United States earned $4,450 per year. The average house cost $11,700 and monthly rent averaged $88. Gasoline was 22 cents a gallon and a new car would cost you just over $2,000. The Rock and Roll dance craze was beginning to sweep the world. Prince Ranier of Monaco married Grace Kelly and the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation in Alabama illegal. The U.S. carried out H-Bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll. A vaccine was developed for Polio by Albert Sabin. The first hard disk (5MG) was invented by IBM, and both non-stick frying pans and portable TV sets first hit the market. Fidel Castrol began to spearhead a revolution in Cuba. Elvis Presley has his first hit record, Heartbreak Hotel, and his first movie was released the same year. The King and I and Around the World in 80 Days were two other big hits at the theater.
I watched My Friend Flicka on TV every chance I got, and wished that I could live an exciting life on a ranch like Ken McLaughlin—or even the life of a TV star like Johnny Washbrook, who was the same age as I. Ah, the naiveté and wild imagination of childhood! During the series’ run, I saw an ad in the local paper about an upcoming personal appearance of Johnny Washbrook at our big amusement center, Belmont Park. This was where I often took the bus on a sunny weekend to enjoy the beach and the midway, so I was sure to be there. I was one of the many kids who stood in line that day to shake hands with a ‘genuine TV star.’ I don’t know to this day what happened to that small photo he gave me.
After high school, some college, and a very long career in the U.S. Army, I still looked back with fondness on those many TV western series that I enjoyed in my younger years. They were the eternal “good vs. bad” melodrama that was at the core of everything from the early western dime novels to the western films produced today.
In 2000, I tracked down John Washbrook and told him I planned to create a web site on My Fiend Flicka, and he was okay with it. I had researched a lot of information on the series, collected photographs and artwork, and composed a lot for the site. He was very helpful in my research, and it was great to hear that he is still doing well (and remembered his long-ago appearance at Belmont Park and his ride in the bumper cars). I told him that I had freckles as a kid as he did and that I never liked them, and he ended one correspondence saying “By the way, I didn’t like my freckles as a kid, either!”
Soon afterward, a museum curator whom I’d been helping in my spare time passed away and I took over as the volunteer curator of the military museum. The position was a big one, as I was determined to totally renovate the museum. I wanted it to realize its great potential—to show off the great history of one of America’s largest and most exciting Army installations. The job became a passion, but the dream was gradually realized, and now it’s a showcase. Several years passed in the interim, the museum was doing very well, I had traveled the world, and I was working as a government contractor after retiring from serving in the Army during five different decades. It was 2009. I had recently attended a collectors’ show to meet celebrities who had entertained at our Army camp. I happened to see a notice that a show was coming up back east that centered on the remaining stars from many of the old TV westerns. John Washbrook was going to be there for his first personal signing in fifty years or so. I remembered the plan that I had pitched to him nearly a decade earlier to do a web site on his series. I found my file on the My Friend Flicka series, and soon began compiling, researching, upgrading and making corrections to the information packet that I’d begun originally. My thanks to all those who have helped in this research, including Rick (a big fan of the Fury TV series as well), folks at the Arabian Horse Association, stunt people connected with the series, and others—they all added pieces to the story.
So there you have it. I live in an area of Central California that is made up of some of California’s most beautiful ranch lands. Many celebrities, including Robert Mitchum, Joel McCrea, Alex Trebek, the Brolins, and the Hearsts have made their homes on large ranches in this area. Back in their heyday, even Jesse and Frank James and the Dalton Gang used to ride through this area. Our town, Paso Robles (formally El Paso de Robles, “the pass of oaks”) is exactly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Recently I finally found the time to devote to getting up a web site deserving of this historic television series. I think that those early western television series were great entertainment for kids. I also feel that the networks are missing a big chance by not re-mastering, colorizing and broadcasting more of the great old TV western series to enthrall today’s kids. They were relatively simple plots that fit into half-hour episodes, and their lessons were those of goodness and compassion. We need more of that today.