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flipper

flip·per / ˈflipər/ • n. a broad flat limb without fingers, used for swimming by various sea animals such as seals, whales, and turtles. ∎  a flat rubber attachment worn on the foot for underwater swimming. ∎  a pivoted arm in a pinball machine, controlled by the player and used for sending the ball back up the table. ∎ inf. a hand.

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flipper

flipperAgrippa, chipper, clipper, dipper, equipper, flipper, gripper, hipper, kipper, nipper, Pippa, ripper, shipper, sipper, skipper, slipper, stripper, tipper, tripper, whipper, zipper •crimper, shrimper, simper, whimper, Whymper •crisper, whisper •mudskipper • caliper • Philippa •juniper • gossiper •worshipper (US worshiper) •griper, piper, sniper, swiper, viper, wiper •bagpiper • sandpiper •bopper, chopper, copper, cropper, Dopper, dropper, hopper, improper, Joppa, poppa, popper, proper, shopper, stopper, swapper, topper, whopper •stomper • prosper • bebopper •teenybopper • grasshopper •clodhopper • sharecropper •name-dropper • eavesdropper •window-shopper • doorstopper •show-stopper •gawper, pauper, torpor, warper

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Flipper

Flipper

The bottlenose dolphin star of two 1960s feature films, a television series from 1964 to 1968, and a 1996 film revival, Flipper educated Americans about the intelligence, loyalty, and compassion toward humans that characterizes the several dolphin species. Flipper rescued people from perilous situations, fought sharks, and warned individuals about impending dangers. Through Flipper, viewers were entertained by an unusual animal friend with a built-in smile, and were made aware of a dolphin's ability to communicate with and respond to people.

Flipper was born of the vision of movie and television underwater stuntman Ricou Browning. While watching Lassie on television with his children, Browning was inspired to invent an underwater counterpart to the courageous collie and wrote a story about a boy and a dolphin named Flipper. He offered the property to Ivan Tors, the producer of the successful television series Sea Hunt (1957-1961). Tors was fascinated by the idea and agreed to produce a feature film.

Browning acquired a dolphin named Mitzi and began training her for the stunts in the film, which included having a boy ride on her back. The training for this stunt required Browning to get into the water with the dolphin, a technique that was highly unusual for the time—trainers who worked with dolphins generally remained outside the water, but Browning discovered that being in the water with Mitzi seemed to accelerate her learning process.

The stunt that required Mitzi to carry a boy on her back was one of those that gave her the most difficulty. Browning finally overcame the problem by employing a variation of the retrieving behavior with the assistance of his son, Ricky. Browning picked up Ricky, commanded Mitzi to fetch, and then threw the boy into the water near the dock where the training session was being conducted. After several attempts, Mitzi grabbed Ricky, he took hold of her fins, and she pulled him back to Browning. The trainer was thrilled that his dolphin had been able to master this routine, considered to be an impossible feat.

Mitzi starred, with Luke Halpin as the boy, in the feature film Flipper (1963) and in the sequel, Flipper's New Adventures (1964), both filmed in the Bahamas. The commercial success of the movies led to the television series, Flipper (1964-1968), which aired on NBC, starring Brian Kelly as Porter Ricks, a ranger in Coral Key Park, Florida; Luke Halpin as his elder son, Sandy; and Tommy Norden as his younger son, Bud. The episodes related the adventures of the boys and their aquatic pet, who rescued them from many dangerous situations.

A dolphin named Suzy was selected as the lead dolphin for the television series, and quickly learned the 35 to 40 behaviors necessary for any script circumstance. However, some behaviors she seemed to exercise on her own. For example, before diving with Suzy, Luke Halpin gulped air from the surface then plunged beneath the water, holding onto the dolphin as she swam toward the bottom. The actor noticed that whenever he needed more air, Suzy returned to the surface. Since she repeated this behavior regularly, Halpin concluded that Suzy's keen hearing and sonar ability probably allowed her to monitor his heart and respiration rates and thus know when the boy needed air. Offscreen, Suzy demonstrated a newly learned trick to producer Ivan Tors. While visiting the set, Tors walked down to the dock and greeted Suzy, who returned the courtesy by squirting water on his shoes.

For three consecutive years from 1965-1967, "Flipper," who enthralled, entertained and enlightened millions, was honored with three PATSY Awards (Performing Animal Top Stars of the Year), the animal equivalent of the Academy Award, given by the American Humane Association. The Flipper idea was revived in the 1990s—as part of a general revival of television shows from the 1960s—with the movie Flipper (1996) and the television series of the same name (1995). The Flipper legacy lives on in increased interest, awareness, and concern for dolphins.

—Pauline Bartel

Further Reading:

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows 1946-Present. New York, Ballantine Books, 1979.

Edelson, Edward. Great Animals of the Movies. Garden City, New Jersey, Doubleday, 1980.

Paietta, Ann C., and Jean L. Kauppila. Animals on Screen and Radio: An Annotated Sourcebook. Metuchen, Scarecrow Press, 1994.

Rothel, David. Great Show Business Animals. San Diego, A.S. Barnes & Company, 1980.

Terrace, Vincent. Encyclopedia of Television Series, Pilots, and Specials 1937-1973. New York, Zoetrope, 1986.

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Flipper

Flipper



The trusty dolphin character Flipper dazzled youthful audiences with its debut in the 1963 feature film of the same name. Later, the popular bottle-nosed mammal made a return appearance in the film sequel Flipper's New Adventure (1964), and then starred in a television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3) series, Flipper (1964–68). Three decades later, the dolphin reappeared in another TV series called Flipper (1995). Finally, amid a nostalgic wave of motion pictures based on hit 1960s TV series, the mammal again appeared in a new film, once again titled Flipper (1996).

What makes this character so appealing is its seeming ability to communicate and interact with humans. Flipper is a playful and mischievous character, but in times of danger, Flipper acts with death-defying courage.

In the first film, which takes place in the Florida Keys, Flipper is an injured dolphin who befriends a twelve-year-old fisherman's son named Sandy Ricks. Sandy and his mother nurse Flipper back to good health. However, because Sandy prefers to play with Flipper rather than do his chores, his dad insists that Sandy stop spending time with the dolphin. Eventually, Flipper shows his mettle by locating a new fishing ground and even rescuing Sandy from life-threatening sharks. The subsequent Flipper stories, all of which also feature Sandy, combine moments of Flipper being happy and playful with climactic sequences of danger wherein the dolphin battles enemies and rescues people in distress.

Flipper is presented as a male, but "he" was played by female dolphins. The first one cast in the role was named Mitzi. At a time when it was rare for dolphins to perform tricks involving interaction with people, Mitzi learned to fetch a boy from the water and carry him on her back. Later, for the first TV series, a dolphin named Suzy was chosen to play the lead role.

The Flipper character was the invention of movie and TV underwater stuntman Ricou Browning (1930–). Browning trained Mitzi to do all the stunts for the screen and employed his son Ricky to act as the subject of many of Flipper's stunts. Later, Suzy learned almost forty maneuvers to make Flipper's actions on TV exciting and believable.


—Audrey Kupferberg

For More Information

Edelson, Edward. Great Animals of the Movies. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980.

Flipper (film). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1963.

Flipper (film). Universal, 1996.

Flipper's New Adventure (film). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1964.

Rothel, David. Great Show Business Animals. San Diego: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1980.

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"Flipper." Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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