Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Finding Lessons in My Friend Flicka

by Diego Lasarte, Vineyard Gazette

On Friday and Saturday night at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, John Washbrook, retired Vineyard banker, found himself back in the saddle as he relived his experience as Johnny Washbrook, a child actor on the beloved television show My Friend Flicka.

Over the course of the two nights, Mr. Washbrook showcased a range of episodes from the show’s single season and spoke candidly about what it was like to work in television in the 1950s.

My Friend Flicka was a network television show that followed the daily lives of a family in the fictional town of Coulee Springs in the American West at the turn of the century. Mainly, it told the story of a young man named Ken McLaughlin, portrayed by Mr. Washbrook, and his friendship with his horse Flika, the Swedish word for little girl.

“A lot of the events of the show, and the lessons contained within it, can be applied to today,” Mr. Washbrook said.

A typical episode would have the boy and his horse navigating a difficult ethical dilemma, as well as trying to be an upstanding member of his small tight-knit town.

“There’s not anything like it on television anymore,” Mr. Washbrook said. “It has a good message about how to deal with people and be a positive member of a community. It was a model for respectful family relationships.”

The former child actor also shared with the audience how he used to get into character. In addition to referring to the actors playing his parents as mom and dad, Mr. Washbrook remembered a unique way he would make himself emotional in scenes when he needed to cry.

“I can remember a moment when I was supposed to be emotional and, as a 10-year-old, one of my tools to cry was to picture my horse being sent to the glue factory,” Mr. Washbrook said. “And I would think about that over and over again until the tears came.”

The show was widely syndicated in the decades after it aired, becoming a cultural touchstone for a bygone era in American history.

As for Mr. Washbrook, he worked in Manhattan as an actor for a number of years before settling on Martha’s Vineyard where he switched careers and became a banker, rising to senior vice president of Edgartown National Bank before he retired. He still performs regularly on the Island, last starring in the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s production of Our Town in the fall of 2019.

“People still come up to me to talk about [the show],” Mr. Washbrook said. “I am always surprised by how many people there are that remember it.”

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