Owned by 12-year old Ricky North (Barry Curtis), who also had a German Shepherd called Rebel, Champion The Wonder Horse (original US title The Adventures of Champion) would always come to the rescue whenever young Ricky got himself into danger (which would be every week), be that through natural disasters or from 'the evil that men do.' Performing feats not normally associated with horses was no problem for Champion or 'Champ' as Ricky would often refer to his trusty steed, just as long as the audience was entertained. And entertained they were for 26 episodes between 1955 and 1956.
Ricky lived on a ranch owned by his adoptive uncle, Sandy North (Jim Bannon) in the American Southwest and other characters were carried over from a 1949-50 radio series, although for some unknown reason the family name was changed to North from West(?). Despite Champion being resident on Ricky’s uncles ranch, the horse would refuse any other rider but the boy.
The series was a big hit in the UK and enjoyed repeated showings on the BBC, even as late as 1993. Christmas annuals sold by the plenty in the 1950s and 60s and in 1966, a 'Champion the Wonder Horse' comic strip ran in the UK comic book 'Buster.' The title song was sung by Norman Luboff and was later covered by Frankie Laine.
Distributed by CBS Television in the US, the series was produced by Flying A Productions, primarily a western television production company founded in 1950 by singer and movie star Gene Autry, who also 'discovered' Champion.
Having been discovered himself by film producer Nat Levine in 1934, Gene Autry, had done his apprenticeship as a singer at local dances from Oklahoma to New York, and made his first movie as a singing cowboy in In Old Santa Fe. Autry was originally uncredited but once his fame began to spread across America the movie was re-released with a new poster and Autry's with name blazed across it with the legend, "The World's Greatest Cowboy Singer." By 1940 Autry was Republic Pictures Corp's biggest star, having made 46 low-budget b-movies. His horse, Champion, was introduced in the 1935 film Melody Trail and soon afterwards, Autry bought the dark sorrel with a blaze face and white stockings for $75. By 1939, Champion was valued at $25,000.
By the time The Adventures of Champion came to children's television in 1955, the original Champion had long gone, and Autry was on his third steed which was known as 'Television Champion.' (His second was Champion Jr.)
The TV Champ was actually bred in the UK and was originally called Dawn, and being hand reared it was extremely tame which made it perfect for training as a television 'celebrity', performing a series of tricks to please its audience and alongside Roy Rogers horse, Trigger, was one of the first stallions to appear regularly on the small screen. Champion was also the only horse ever to visit the top of the Empire State Building.
Published on August 29th, 2022. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.