Jessica Walter Has An Incredible And Disturbing Dolphin Story From The Set Of ‘Flipper’

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Jessica Walter — Lucille Bluth and Mallory Archer, herself — was one of the guests on this week’s episode of Bullseye with Jesse Thorn on NPR. At the very beginning of the episode, as a teaser, before they even start the interview, the show played a brief clip of her discussing one of her early roles, and it is … it’s a hell of a story.

Take it away, Jessica:

“One of my first shows I ever did on film was Flipper. Remember, ‘Flipper, Flipper’? It was shot in Florida and it was about this dolphin. And so I get to Florida … they had a thing where Flipper, in the story, he comes out of a helicopter and he dives into the ocean to pick up this medicine… this trunk of medicine that’s gonna save people on my boat that’s stranded. So sure enough, you know, the helicopter, we set up the shots and we’re in the middle of somewhere in Florida in the ocean. And this helicopter, the thing opens up and OUT COMES FLIPPER, right into the ocean. Dives in. I said ‘Well isn’t that amazing!’

“He said ‘Well that’s a frozen dead dolphin.'”

So first of all, this sounds like a goddamn incredible episode of television. I mean, a dolphin jumps out of a helicopter to retrieve medicine from the bottom of the sea. Out of a helicopter?! And if you thought maybe this was a later episode of the show where the producers had run out of normal dolphin things for Flipper to do and were grasping for straws, well, oh ho ho, my friend. Not so fast. A little research reveals that this happened in the pilot. Behold, the IMDB description of the 1964 Flipper episode titled “300 Feet Below,” starring a 23-year-old Jessica Walter as Elena Darmon.

Bud plays catch with Flipper, teaching him how to retrieve items from the ocean floor. An SOS comes through; Bill Darmon has been attacked by a shark and needs blood urgently. Porter contacts the Coast Guard to arrange the blood delivery before going out with Bud to rescue Bill. The helicopter arrives but during the transfer the blood is lost overboard. A number of attempts are made to retrieve it but a persistent shark stops all efforts till Flipper comes to the rescue, fights off the shark and brings the blood up.

Yup, the story checks out.

And second of all, and more importantly, this means that somewhere in Florida in the early 1960s, two people had this conversation, or one close to it.

GUY: So we’re gonna heave the dolphin out of the helicopter…


GUY: … but we can’t use a real, living dolphin because it probably won’t survive.

OTHER GUY: Of course.

GUY: So what we need, I guess, is a dead one.

OTHER GUY: Fresh or frozen.

GUY: What?

OTHER GUY: You want the dolphin fresh or frozen?

GUY: Uh… frozen, I guess. Because of the smell.

OTHER GUY: Done. Gimme 20 minutes.

I guess that’s Hollywood for you.