Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mitzi aka Flipper

Mitzi was born in 1958.

Underwater stuntman Ricou Browning was inspired to create the character of Flipper while watching another animal actor, Pal (aka Lassie) performing. Browning thought of doing something similar to Lassie but about a kid and a dolphin. Browning authored a book and then tried to sell the idea as a movie. He was turn down everywhere he went.

Ivan Tors, producer of Sea Hunt, loved the idea and Tors authorized Browning to find a dolphin for the role of Flipper.

Browning visited aquariums throughout Florida and across the United States in search of a dolphin to star in the film. Most of the dolphins Browning encountered swam away in fear when he entered the water with them.

Browning then heard about Milton Santini a dolphin supplier in the Florida Keys. Santini owned a pet dolphin named Mitzi who was more than willing to share her space of the pool with human beings.

Browning and Tors visited Santini. When Browning entered the pool, Mitzi swam right over to him and even allowed Browning to hold her in his arms. Browning had found his Flipper.

Browning moved to the Florida Keys with his nine year old son, Ricky and began training Mitzi for the required stunts.

Other trainers warned Browning it would take six months to a year to properly train Mitzi. However, Mitzi was a fast learning and quickly learned her stunts.

Mitzi could retrieve balls, sticks and just about any objectthat she was able to carry. She could tow a boat with a rope, hit the water with her tail, and shake hands.

Despite Mitzi's fast learning, she still could not do one important stunt, carrying a boy on her back.

Then Browning had a brilliant idea. What if he used the retrieving behavior to achieve the desired effect? Browning with the assistance of his son, he would pick up Ricky and order Mitzi to fetch. Browning then tossed Ricky into the water, Mitzi swam to grab him holding on to a strap on his clothes. Ricky then grabbed ahold and Mitzi brought him back to the dock.

Once Mitzi had learned all the required tricks and behaviors, filming began. Browning encountered another obstacle. Mitzi was afraid of the buzz made by the underwater cameras. Browning worked with her and Mitzi became acclimated to the sounds within days.

Mitzi appeared in both Flipper (1963) and Flipper's New Adventure (1964). However, when the movie was made into a television series, a different dolphin, Suzy was cast in the role of Flipper.

Mitzi died in 1972 at age fourteen. She is buried at the Dolphin Research Center, where her grave is the first stop on the center's public tours.

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