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Mary O'Hara's popular book first appeared in condensed versions in the January-February 1941 issue of Story Magazine and in the August 1941 issue of Red Book Magazine. A November 1941 Los Angeles Examiner news item announced that My Friend Flicka had been purchased specifically as a vehicle for Roddy McDowall in recognition of the critical acclaim he received for his role in How Green Was My Valley. According to December 1941 Hollywood Reporter news items, Eugene Forde was originally set to direct the picture, and Michael Wilson had been engaged to work on the screenplay. Information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, indicates that Wilson did not contribute to the finished script, however. A memo in the legal records reveals that Susan Levine was considered for the role of "Hildy." Child actress Diana Hale was borrowed from Warner Bros. for the production, which was filmed on location in Cedar City, UT.
The film became the center of a major conflict between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), two unions which claimed to have jurisdiction over the employment of photographers working on locations outside of California, according to a series of 1942 Hollywood Reporter news items. The situation was further complicated by various regulations enforced by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), an honorary guild, which maintained a strong alliance with IBEW. Director of photography Edward Cronjager began production on the film, but his removal from the project was demanded by IATSE, to which he did not belong. Cronjager was replaced by Virgil Miller, who resigned from IATSE in response to ASC and IBEW protests. Miller was in turn replaced by Dewey Wrigley after IATSE again complained to the studio. Wrigley, who belonged to IATSE, was suspended from the ASC after he accepted the My Friend Flicka job, which meant that he would not be able to work in California upon the company's return from its location site. Both IBEW and IATSE threatened Twentieth Century-Fox with strikes if they were not recognized as possessing sole jurisdiction over first cameramen. For its part, the studio declared that it would hold any hindering organization responsible for the $7,500 per day costs if production was delayed. Upon the company's return to Los Angeles from Utah, the ASC did permit Wrigley to continue working on the picture.
McDowall and Rita Johnson appeard with George Brent in a June 7, 1943 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story. On November 4, 1948, Claude Jarmon starred in The Hallmark Playhouse's radio broadcast of the story. O'Hara wrote two sequels to My Friend Flicka, both of which were filmed by Twentieth Century-Fox. In 1945, McDowall, Johnson, Preston Foster, James Bell and Diana Hale reprised their roles for Thunderhead, Son of Flicka, which was directed by Louis King. In 1948, Robert Arthur, Lloyd Nolan and Geraldine Wall took over the roles of the McLaughlins for Green Grass of Wyoming, which was again directed by King. For its first television production venture, Twentieth Century-Fox made a series based on O'Hara's characters, entitled My Friend Flicka, which ran from 1956 to 1958, first on the CBS network and then the NBC network. The series featured Johnny Washbrook, Anita Louise and Gene Evans as the McLaughlin family. Another adaptation of O'Hara's book, directed by Michael Mayer and entitled Flicka, was released by Twentieth Century Fox in October 2006. The 2006 film starred Alison Lohman, Tim McGraw and Maria Bello.