My pal Flipper: The gamboling dolphin in a new role (1963)
Dolphins could challenge dogs as a boy’s best friend if it were easier for boys to become personally acquainted with them as young actor Luke Halpin has.
Chosen to play the lead in a children’s movie, Flipper, just released this month by MGM, Luke met Mitzie the dolphin, his co-star, when somebody told him to hop into the water and get acquainted.
“I was sort of scared,” he admits, “because she was so big, and she had an awful lot of teeth. I kept my arms and legs close to me at first.” But Mitzie only gyrated and swam around him, at the same time whistling in typical dolphin fashion. Within minutes, the two were frolicking about just like — well, just like a pair of dolphins.
After a day’s shooting, Luke sits on the dock to rest while Mitzie keeps him company. When she stuck her nose out of the water and nickered at him, he fed her cut-up mullet, her favorite food. When she wanted to be petted like a dog, she rolled over and floated on her back so Luke could stroke her stomach.
“She loved it,” he said, “but I had to remember to keep my nails short so I wouldn’t scratch her thin skin.”
Cavorting along a Nassau reef between movie scenes, the youthful co-stars (Mitzie was 5, Luke, 15) explore together. Whenever he tired, Luke would hitch a tow by grabbing Mitzie’s dorsal fin. And occasionally for fun he would try riding jockey style, legs over her back for a hundred yards until he toppled off or Mitzie headed underwater.
After the movie was completed, they had to part — Mitzie to Florida and Luke to New York. Luke stood on the dock after a final swim and said, “Gee, I wish I could have brought her home.”
If he gets truly lonesome, he can buy another dolphin as a pet: they’re for sale these days, $300 each or a pair for $700.
The Flipper TV show: ‘Flipper’ Learns Fast
By Charles Witbeck in The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) October 31, 1964
How do you upstage a three-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin called “Flipper” (real name Susie)?
Brian Kelly, the grownup on the Saturday mammal series, doesn’t try to compete. Flipper is the come-on, but the main show centers on a man and two boys (Tommy Norden and Luke Halpin), so Brian is on safe ground. Kelly does the acting, Flipper does the dramatic swimming.
This isn’t quite Lassie in the water. “The dolphin is in the periphery,” says Kelly. “If fans don’t like myself and the two boys, they won’t care about the dolphin.”
While Kelly and the boys have most of the lines, Brian knows that most of the interest centers on Flipper, and he can give a real good dolphin pitch.
Kelly, Flipper and crew, guided by the madman, Ivan “Sea Hunt” Tors, filmed from late April to late September in Florida and Nassau, and only took a hiatus to avoid hurricane weather.
Even Tors’ planning was slightly off, perhaps on purpose, because the crew was filming in Miami when hurricane Cleo hit and Ivan saw to it cameras were recording the wreckage. “When the storm warnings went up,” says Kelly, “we went down to the lake to net Flipper.
Usually, she wants to play, so crew members have to swim about a while to nudge her onto the stretcher. This time I put the stretcher in the water and Flipper swims right on it without any fooling around. It’s puzzling, but did she know about the hurricane?”
Flipper or Susie, being a mammal, can exist out of water for a while, as long as her skin is kept wet, and she flies with the crew from Miami to Nassau tied down on her stretch er. She does everything seen on the color screen and is labeled a one-shot learner, because she never flubs a procedure the second time.
“Flipper has total retention,” says Brian with evident awe in his voice.
Scientists working for the Navy are studying the dolphin and its sounds at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Miami, Florida, and in California, and have recorded 1,400 different dolphin noises which Kelly says are only 20 percent of the total.
Considered the underwater brain, the smartest moving object with fins, trained ones like Flipper, still can’t be trusted to hang around, and are kept in pools, lakes or penned areas such as one used in Nassau. Flipper can’t break loose, she might never come back and upset a shooting schedule for a couple of weeks until another mammal could be starred.
However, in a few years, pens may not be necessary. Kelly tells of scientists using a buzzing signal with a dolphin, then turning him loose in the Atlantic. Then the dolphin heads towards Europe, and halfway out, hears the buzzing signal underwater, and returns to home base and the scientists. This same procedure may work someday with another Flipper.
“The dolphin is an All-American, that’s all,” says Kelly, a former Notre Dame man. “He’s faster and smarter than anything else in the water. Whales don’t bother him, sharks lose battles to his speed and his slashing tail. Why, the mammal has even been known to come to the rescue of man fighting off sharks.”
The dolphin does have a few weaknesses, namely toward man. He’s susceptible to our bacteria and can become infected by contact, so if Kelly has a cold he can’t skin dive with Flipper. Neither should Flipper swim in pools built for humans unless the pool has been emptied, scrubbed and refilled with salt water.
A hotel pool went through the alteration for a sequence for Flipper’s benefit to Florida, and then the hurricane came up canceling the whole thing.
“The sky went yellow-green,” said Kelly, “and we hid out in hotels. We all survived, but I don’t want to go through another one.”
Stars of the 1960s Flipper TV show