Champion The Wonder Horse

Champion The Wonder Horse was shown on BBC Television in the late fifties here in England and proved popular – we knew it was special when Frankie Lane sang the title song over the titles – it seemed to kick things off well.

I hadn’t realised that there was only 26 episodes made as it seemed to run for a long time and also was very popular

In the series, a young “Ricky” (played by Barry Curtis ) lives on his uncle Sandy’s ranch and comes into contact with rustlers, bad men, and all sorts of strange characters. Champion, the horse leads a wild herd and always comes to the rescue of Ricky – who is the only person Champion will allow to ride him.

On this series, young Barry Curtis does all his own riding, rides Champion bareback at full speed and doesn’t have a double – some feat for a twelve-year-old.

With Rebel the dog

Champion appeared with Gene Autry as his partner and sidekick throughout their legendary career in film, radio, and television.

Original Champion in Home on the Prairie, 1939

Apparently there were three “official” Champions that performed in Gene Autry films. The Original Champion was sorrel-coloured, had a blaze down his face and white stockings on all his legs except the right front. His first onscreen appearance was in the 1935 film ‘Melody Trail’. He died while Gene was in the service.

Champion Jr., c. 1950

Gene’s second screen horse was Champion Jr. and he appeared in films until 1950. Republic Pictures always , billed Champion Jr. as “Wonder Horse of the West,” and then at Columbia, he was known as “World’s Wonder Horse.”

The third screen horse, Television Champion, was in Gene’s last films and also appeared on television in The Gene Autry Show and The Adventures of Champion during the fifties.

Rushing from a film set in Hollywood for his annual appearance at Madison Square Garden for the World’s Championship Rodeo in 1940, Champion made aviation history as the first horse to fly from California to New York.

Champion on parade,
c. 1953

Champion taking tea
at London’s Savoy Hotel,

Always popular, Champion received thousands of fan letters each month, proving that the World’s Wonder Horse was an important element in the Singing Cowboy’s success.

Throughout their careers, Gene Autry and Champion were featured in dime novels, children’s stories, and comic books. Champion even received equal billing with Gene above the leading ladies on film posters and lobby cards promoting Autry films – in fact, when casting ‘Champion the Wonder Horse’ Gene offered another actor the lead part and he turned it down because he refused to be second billed to the horse !!

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