Flipper: Smarter Than Your Average Bear

We are in the midst of our blog series, Life with Unusual Pets. Today we are looking at Flipper.

Kelly, Nordin, and Halpin Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

From 1964-67, Flipper aired Saturday nights at 6:30 EST. The movie Flipper came out in 1963, and the television show was adapted from the movie. The premise of the television show is that Porter Ricks (Brian Kelly) is the Chief Warden at the Coral Key Park and Marine Reserve in Florida and a widower. He lives with his two sons, Sandy who is 15 (Luke Halpin) and Bud who is 10 (Tommy Nordin). Flipper, a wild bottlenose dolphin, is their pet. Flipper is a very intelligent animal who helps enforce regulations, performs rescues at sea with Porter, and “babysits” Sandy and Bud.

Photo: ranker.com

Additional cast members included Hap Gorman (Andy Devine) who was a carpenter and storyteller; Ulla Norstrand (Ulla Stromstedt) who was an oceanographer; and Ed Dennis (Dan Chandler), another warden.

Home on Flipper and Gentle Ben Photo: wikiwand.com

The show was filmed in Miami in cooperation with the Miami Seaquarium. Gentle Ben, which we’ll learn a bit more about next week, was also filmed there, and the families used the same home. The show was praised for its lush photography and colorful underwater scenes. The background music for underwater scenes was inspired by Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe.”

Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

The show’s theme was composed by Henry Vars, and lyrics were written by By Dunham. If you grew up in the early sixties, you will definitely remember this song:

They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning,
No-one you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder,
Flying there-under, under the sea!

Everyone loves the king of the sea,
Ever so kind and gentle is he,
Tricks he will do when children appear,
And how they laugh when he’s near!

They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning,
No-one you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder,
Flying there-under, under the sea!

The role of Flipper was played by at least five different dolphins. Susie was the primary actor, followed by Kathy, Patty, Scotty, and Squirt. The show used female dolphins because they are less aggressive and males tend to have more “fighting” scars, so female dolphins look more alike for photography. Surprisingly, the Flipper voice everyone remembers was an altered version of the song of a kookaburra bird. Some critics felt Flipper was portrayed as too intelligent. However, many scientists have stated that dolphins rank with chimpanzees and dogs as the most intelligent animals. They have a complex communication system and often live to be 50 years old.

During the first two seasons, Flipper was in the top 30 shows, but in season three the ratings declined. Both the boys felt they had outgrown their roles and wanted to leave the show. The last episode of season three has Sandy enrolling at the Coast Guard Academy and Bud going to an out-of-state private school. A new family moved into the area composed of a widow and her son and daughter; apparently, they would be Flipper’s companions for season four, but the show was not renewed.

Photo: mycomicshop.com

Flipper was one of the first shows to generate a lot of merchandise aimed at kids. At the time you could buy lunch boxes, comic books, novels, spoons, puzzles, a board game, a watch, and View Master reels.

Halpin must have enjoyed his time on the show. Following the cancellation of the show, he settled into a Hollywood career in marine services, working as a diver and stuntman for many shows including Miami Vice.

Flipper is one of those shows a lot of people have fond memories of watching with their family. There was really nothing groundbreaking in the show, and it was an average quality show—nothing to overly praise or denounce. In our current television schedule, we don’t have many of these family shows. Shows tend to be created for adults, teens, or kids but not all three. Maybe that’s why shows like Flipper, Gentle Ben, and Lassie are so warmly remembered from our childhood.

2 thoughts on “Flipper: Smarter Than Your Average Bear

  1. I’ve read some things that make dolphins sound like they are very intelligent. I feel like recently I even read something about Russia using them to help their military/navy. I haven’t though about a View Master reel in a long time! I vaguely remember one from when I was young. I don’t think I’ve heard of the show Gentle Ben so I look forward to next week!

    Like

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