There was a time in the United States when all the phones had rotary dial, most of the televisions were only black and white, and the most popular animal around was a dolphin named Flipper. This dolphin was the star of his own television series from September 1964 until April 1967. Some referred to him as Lassie (the dog from TV and movies) with fins.
The whole Flipper craze actually started as a movie in 1963 starring Chuck Connors. That led to the creating a television series and an amazing amount of merchandising for the 1960s. For the series the producers added a second son to the family of Porter Ricks and promoted Ricks from park ranger trainee to park ranger. Brian Kelly took over the role of Ricks.
The show was set in the Florida Keys with Ricks being in charge of the Coral Key Marine Reserve. It is a great place to raise two boys as a single father. Flipper, the star of the show, is their animal companion and hangs out near their dock. Many a bad guy turns up in Coral Key with illegal activities on their minds. It is Flipper who invariably foils their activities by alerting the Ricks family that something in not right and leading them in the right direction to save the day.
Behind the scenes Flipper was played by a female bottlenose dolphin -- actually a bevy of female dolphins -- with one exception. When Flipper was doing his famous tail walk he was then portrayed a male dolphin named Clown who was a master at this unusual trick. Female dolphins were preferred for the rest of Flipper's scenes because they were less aggressive and less likely to have scars or other disfigurations of their skin. The "voice" of Flipper was actually the doctored version of a kookaburra's song. For those who don't know, a kookaburra is a bird from Australia.
Other animals also appeared on the show. One of these was Pelican Pete, a bird who appeared in the original movie and several episodes of the TV series. Near the end of the second season Flipper was given a "girlfriend" named Lorelei. More animals included a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a baby elephant, and the ubiquitous denizens of Florida -- alligators.
After the show ended one of the dolphins went on to be a mascot for the Miami Dolphins football team. In the 1990s the show was briefly revived and a major motion picture of Flipper was released starring Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood. In Oman an inflatable dolphin dubbed "Flipper" is being used to help train people on how to save stranded dolphins.
The original television show is available on DVD. To check this out, click here. Take your kids on a retro journey to the 1960s when the sound of that theme song ushered in Saturday nights for many families.
Images via IMDb