Saturday, August 30, 2014


The beloved TV show Flipper (wait, what do you mean you've never heard of it? You damn kids!) originally aired from 1964 to 1967, and was based on the movie of the same name that was a box office smash in theatres in the summer of '63. It was, like I Dream of Jeannie, one of the few classic TV shows set in Florida. Unlike Jeannie, this one was actually filmed on location here, in Miami.

The show starred Brian Kelly as Porter Ricks, a warden at a marine preserve on Florida's Coral Key. He's a single dad trying to raise two sons, Sandy and Bud, while fending off gangsters, escaped convicts, lobster poachers, and surly characters snook-fishing out of season. And then there's the show's namesake, Flipper - a hyperintelligent dolphin who always saves the day with increasingly unlikely feats of Lassie-like skill.

Like Mork & Mindy a decade later, Flipper suffered from a constant revamping by its producers, leaving a very erratic legacy with a multitude of short-lived characters. Even Ricks' widower status was a retcon from the original movie, where Mrs. Ricks is very much alive.

The show's first season featured Andy Devine as a comical lout named Hap, regaling the boys with very implausible tall tales about his days as a seafarer. Then the character vanished, as did the Ricks family dog, Spray, who was never seen or mentioned again after the first season. Flipper's pelican friend, Pete, also didn't last long. In the second season they threw in a female love interest for Ricks, a Swedish oceanographer named Ulla who tootled around the Atlantic in her own personal miniature submarine. By the third season she was gone too, without explanation or exposition.

For the third season, advance promos for the show hawked the addition of a new girlfriend for Sandy to the cast. She appeared in only one episode before the producers apparently got bored and wrote her out of the show. By the end of the series, even Sandy and Bud themselves were written out - a very special two-part episode explained that Sandy and Bud had gone off to private schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and were being replaced on the show by a family called the Whitmans, consisting of a widowed mother with two kids of her own.

By this time NBC decided enough was enough, and pulled the plug on the show immediately after this "Cousin Oliver" moment.

In real life, Flipper was a female named Mitzi, who lived at the Dolphin Research Center (then known as Santini’s Porpoise School) where Mitzi was the very first student dolphin trained to do tricks. Mitzi died in 1972, and is buried in the courtyard of the DRC with a small plaque: "Dedicated to the memory of Mitzi, the original Flipper, who resided at this facility from 1958 to 1972″.

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