Mary O’Hara is one of the very few pony book authors who has remained in print for decades. Some of her books are still available today; she is helped in this by the fact she is American, as horse books in the USA do not seem to have suffered the same lack of publisher enthusiasm as in the UK.
Mary O’Hara was born in 1885 in New Jersey. She travelled widely in Europe with her grandmother, studied harmony and composition in London and went to an English boarding school in Italy. After her first marriage, she moved to California, where she became a screen-writer, and had a son and a daughter. Her daughter sadly died young of cancer. Mary married again in 1922, and this time moved to Wyoming. It was here that she wrote her ranch novels: My Friend Flicka, The Green Grass of Wyoming and Thunderhead. Her biography, Flicka’s Friend, describes her life in Wyoming on the Remount Ranch with her second husband. Alas, he was a philanderer, and nothing like the Rob of the novels. There are other aspects of the novels which did not happen in real life. The real life Flicka died of her barbed wire wounds. Mary always felt that if she had stayed with Flicka in the stream, she might have lived.
The world portrayed in Mary O’Hara’s Wyoming novels is life as she must have wished it could be. Ironically, it was the success of the books, rather than the success of the ranch, that funded their life there, and eventually Mary divorced her second husband, Helge Sture-Vasa, and moved back East. She lived in Maryland until her death on 14 October 1980.
Mary O’Hara was a gifted composer and besides several works for the piano and harp, she wrote a musical called The Catch Colt. This she turned into a novella for Methuen, also writing a book about the musical’s composition, called A Musical in the Making. The Flicka books have also been filmed. In the second version of Flicka, Ken becomes Katie, a rather sad comment on whom the film makers considered their likely audience.
Finding the books
In the UK, her books are very easy to find, as they were printed in paperback by Dragon Books. Each story was split into several different books (perhaps uniquely; I can’t think of another pony book where this happened). The books have also been published as single paperback volumes, and were also published as hardbacks, some with fine illustrators such as Charles Tunnicliffe.
Printings in the UK pale into insignificance beside those in the USA. The first edition of My Friend Flicka, originally published in the USA without illustrations, is immensely difficult to find, but the avalanche of editions which appeared afterwards are easier. If you want the true first editions, published of course in the USA, be prepared to dig deep. They are not cheap.
Links and sources
A more detailed biography from Georgetown University. The University holds typed manuscripts for Flicka’s Friend and The Catch Colt.
Reviews of Flicka’s Friend
The Wikipedia entry on Mary O’Hara
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Hannah Fleetwood and Barbara Harris for all their help with the pictures.