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8 iconic animal actors

By: Matt Hickman on Sept. 11, 2013, 5:50 p.m.
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While a series of female bottlenose dolphins collectively portrayed Flipper, aka "Lassie of the Sea," during the three-season TV run of "Flipper," a photogenic – and exceptionally trained – lady-dolphin named Mitzi primarily played the titular role in MGM’s 1963 family film that birthed the popular spin-off series (along with a mawkish, Jennifer Alba-starring TV revival in the 1990s and a 1996 remake starring Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood that relied heavily on animatronics in lieu of real dolphins).

Mitzi, the original Flipper, passed away in 1972 of a heart attack at the age of 14 and is interred at the nonprofit Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, the same institution where she resided and was trained. Well, kind of. Before it became the noted educational facility that it is today, the Dolphin Research Center was more or less a roadside attraction known as Santini’s Porpoise School (and later Flipper’s Sea School) founded by commercial fisherman and sea mammal fancier Milton Santini.

In the late 1960s, one of Mitzi’s several television predecessors, Kathy, fell victim to what "Flipper" trainer/stunt double Ric O’Barry believes was suicide. Following this tragic incident, O’Barry launched a passionate, 40-year-plus career dedicated to rescuing dolphins from captivity and educating the public as to why "capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong." Most recently, he appeared in the award-winning 2009 documentary "The Cove."