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My pal Flipper, the dolphin king of the sea (1963)

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Before Flipper was a hit TV show, Luke Halpin appeared as Sandy Ricks in two movies, Flipper and Flipper’s New Adventure. Here’s a look back to when the fish tale — okay, dolphin tale — was just getting started!

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My pal Flipper: The gamboling dolphin in a new role

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.

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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.

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