by Donald Liebenson, special to the Chicago Tribune
Publication Date: May 03, 1996
Thirty-three years after making a big splash on the big screen, Flipper the dolphin is poised to make waves with families once again. A remake of the 1963 family classic "Flipper," starring Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood, will surface in theaters May 17.
With Flipper-mania at hand, Hallmark Home Entertainment is taking the plunge on May 14 by releasing 12 volumes of episodes from the original "Flipper" TV series, which debuted on NBC in 1964 and ran for four years. (NOTE: the series ran for only three years) Each volume will contain two adventures and will retail for $14.95.
The twelve volumes are on VHS tape, and include these episodes:
#22 White Dolphin/#30 Flipper's Monster
#39 Flipper and the Spy/#40 Dolphin Patrol
#44 Shark Hunt/#61 Agent Bud
#46-48 Flipper's Odyssey
#53 Gift Dolphin/#79 Aunt Martha
#55-56 Flipper Joins The Navy (Luke Halpin does not appear)
#41 A Job for Sandy/#52 Air Power
#58 Deep Waters/#68 A Whale Ahoy
#59-60 Dolphin Love
#71 Flipper and the Puppy/#77 Flipper and the Seal
#74-75 Flipper and the Fugitive
#87-88 Flipper's New Friends
For Baby Boomers and their families, this was the original "Must-See TV." "Flipper" kicked off a Saturday night lineup that included such future "Nick at Nite" staples as "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Get Smart." When it moved to Sundays, it joined Disney's "Wonderful World of Color" and "Bonanza."
Clothing and hairstyles have changed since then, but "Flipper" has a timeless appeal, said Luke Halpin, who portrayed Sandy, the eldest son of Ranger Porter Ricks, in the 1963 movie, the 1964 sequel, "Flipper's New Adventure," and the TV series. He has a one-line cameo in the new film.
"Look at the setup," he exclaimed in a phone interview. "You've got two brothers with their own boat and their own diving gear. They have a pet dolphin. They live in a marine sanctuary. Their father is the Ranger and he's not around all the time. What could be better than that?"
A saltwater Lassie, the resourceful Flipper ("No one, you see," goes the theme song, "is smarter than he") is a handy pet to have around if you're trapped on the ocean floor in a crashed airplane, swimming in shark-infested waters or at the mercy of your prim and proper aunt who wants to turn you into gentlemen -- just a few of the adventures facing Sandy and his more trouble-prone brother, "Bud," played by Tommy Nordan. (A new, one-hour syndicated TV "Flipper" series, at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WCIU-Ch.26, features a grown-up "Bud" -- Brian Wimmer as Dr. Keith "Bud" Ricks -- leading a team of ocean scientists studying dolphins in South Florida.)
As a child, Halpin observed dolphins off Long Island Sound, where he lived. He wanted to be a concert pianist, but was compelled by his piano teacher to seek an agent in New York and pursue acting after his father, who worked for a railroad, suffered an incapacitating accident.
Halpin acted during the golden era of live television for such directors as Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer. He worked on soap operas and appeared on Broadway in "Take Me Along" opposite Jackie Gleason ("That's a whole other interview right there," he said, laughing).
He was noticed by Ivan Tors, who would produce "Flipper."
"He came backstage," Halpin recalled. "I was very impressed. I was a big fan of 'Sea Hunt' (which Tors also produced). I couldn't believe he wanted to talk to me. I wanted to talk to him." After he verified at a local YMCA that he could swim, Halpin got the part.
Halpin and Suzy, the dolphin who portrayed Flipper, shared a special bond during the series' run.
"She used to drag me to the surface after long underwater sequences in which I had to hold my breath," he said. "How did she know I was starving for air? She was listening to my heart rate."
At other times, Halpin marveled, when he would be sitting in the water by the beach, Suzy would swim into his arms and sleep. "When they sleep in the ocean," he said, "it's only for short periods of time because of danger from predators."
Today, Halpin lives in Florida, where the series was set. He still works in film, but mostly behind the scenes as a technician and grip. A victim of typecasting, his acting career, he said, was "basically gone" after "Flipper" went off the air.
"But I can't complain about being part of something that has done so much good for so many people," he said. "Three generations have watched 'Flipper.' I hear from people who watched the show when it was new and who became sailing captains, marine biologists and started dive businesses."
Now in his mid-40s, Halpin still dives with the legends who originally trained him, including Ricou Browning, who received co-story credit on the original film and co-created the series. He also worked on the underwater sequences for the James Bond adventure "Thunderball." Another diving mate, Halpin said, is Courtney Brown, who was Lloyd Bridges' "Sea Hunt" underwater stunt double.
Halpin has not lost his love for or fascination with dolphins.
" 'Flipper' was an opportunity for me to live a dream of not only being in the water," he said, "but also to educate people about dolphins, that they are something to be looked after and not to be used as target practice.
"When I see (dolphins), I stop what I'm doing and observe them. That will never go away.
(NOTE: The list of episodes and all pictures were added by The Luke Halpin Gallery and do not appear in the original news article. The pictures are screencaps from the Season 1 and 2 DVDs, not from the VHS tapes. The original Chicago Tribune article is available online by clicking here.)