Mike Nichols Tries to Make a "Talkie" With Dolphins

“It’ll sound a bit silly, but they sort of understand each other, Mike and the dolphins. Gets a bit spooky sometimes.”

A bit has been written, a lot said, too much rumored: about their intelligence or their humor or their habits, their language ability, their intraand interspecies signals: a capacity to communicate with each other and with man. Humans (including some of the scientists) attracted to dolphins are likely to romanticize. In man, for some reason, sentimentality and cynicism have often gone hand in hand. People who do not get along very well with other people claim a magical ability to make contact with a different species, as we teach our pets to imitate what we cannot express in ourselves, and dogs are made to sit up and beg by owners who would never say please to an equal. So when you hear that a pet poodle believes itself to be a person, the chances are it isn’t the poodle’s problem. Human unkindness is masked, fear paper-trained, cuteness is all.

And so, when I heard from a friend that there was a movie director on location in the Bahamas who had taught six dolphins to perform, and was using two of them as actors in a movie. I wondered. Mike Nichols is frequently referred to as an actor’s director, but enough is enough; Flipper (the television star) notwithstanding, a dolphin is a dolphin. Besides, this was no run-of-the-mill mammal like

Flipper, my friends told me; these dolphins didn’t just do stunts, they could express themselves, these dolphins could act.

I called and asked Nichols if it was true, and when he hedged and said he didn’t know and then changed the subject, I got a plane reservation. Nichols is a strangely shy, modest man, who talks more about the breeding of horses (Arabians) than about his other work, and usually refers to his career in movies and theater as if it were merely the thing that makes owning the horses possible. I was still wondering what he meant by “I don’t know” when the plane landed at eleven o’clock in the morning on a very narrow, uninhabited-looking sandbar in the Bahamian chain east of Miami and south of Nassau.

Abaco is one of those Caribbean islands that never made it in British expatriate society and has been spruced up to look as if it doesn’t give a damn. At one end is a manicured polyp of land that has a golf course, tennis courts, a mediumsized hotel—and a series of beach-front lots parceled out by the management and advertised for sale “To People Who Care.”Dubbed “Treasure Cay.” the polyp has been nicely planted, aimed at middle-class American taste, with several varieties of flowers and a long stretch of coconut palms from Nassau that scatter nuts on the ground audibly all night. Most of the rest of the island is white and dry. except for Marsh Harbor, an accurately named town at the opposite end. Between its two ends, the land has a dusty, limestone look. Hidden somewhere near the center, built in from but including part of the beach, was the set for Nichols’ picture. The Day of the Dolphin, which was being shot entirely on location.

Nearly all the members of the company were living in the Treasure Cay Hotel and Bungalows. Nichols himself had rented a beach house nearby on a small plot facing a stretch of sea that shone with the luminous turquoise color for which the Bahamas are famous. The house was quiet, simply furnished, plain-looking. Wherever the director is on a movie location, you quickly come to expect a certain transient grandiosity that expresses itself in quantities of servants who produce food and odd luxuries every evening flown in that morning on the company plane. Butlers are likely to appear with bowls of fresh Beluga Malassol every time somebody frowns. Nichols’ house was different. It had one servant—a Costa Rican girl who cleaned up the dishes after dinner and made the beds. There was no cook. Annabel Davis-Goff, with whom Nichols shares his life, did the shopping and preparing of food. Annabel is gentle, young, English, looks like Desdemona, speaks so softly you sometimes don’t know when she is in the room. Also in the living room the first evening were Lillian Heilman and the Richard Avedons— and, eventually, Nichols, who came in at eight o’clock. He had been looking at the film’s rushes after finishing the day’s shooting, and he apologized for his lateness, swallowed a drink and dinner, and by nine forty-five had gone to bed —having disclosed no information about dolphins. At some point in the evening I had asked him how the dolphins were. “Fine,” he said. “And you?”

The pressure around a movie location is understandably tremendous, because the only reason for the company’s presence is for it to be in a particular landscape, and the director is at the mercy of such obstacles as light, lack of light, rain, lack of rain, clouds on the horizon that do not match the horizon on yesterday’s print, the unexpected airplane that roars overhead when an actor is speaking, and a mild epidemic of intestinal distress that besets the entire company sooner or later, living in a strange country and eating strange food. (The fleeting expressions of agony that used to cross the faces of Dorothy Lamour or Maria Montez in the South Sea Islands were not always caused by love. “You can’t fool the camera with fake emotion,” I once heard Joshua Logan say while shooting a movie in Mexico, “the actor has to be feeling something.”) Nichols had guarded his actors against this possibility by bringing along the man who works as his cook in Connecticut, and giving him the job of cooking for the movie company in Abaco.

The first building to be seen on the set after an hour’s drive up island the next morning, along a private road and past a sign that said NO ADMITTANCE. was the makeshift commissary where the company members ate lunch. The meal was over when I got there, and I sat for a while talking to Nichols’ cook, Roberto Rey, a Spaniard from the province of Galicia who has gained a reputation for his ability to turn lunch for two or three people into a feast, and who was just beginning to get over the culture shock of cooking lunch daily for three hundred people who would rather eat hamburgers and drink beer. “May raro: very rare.” he said; “the worse you cook the better they like it. First day I make for them a daube glacee. Perfection. Creole. A delicacy for hot weather. ‘Phooey,’ they say, ‘you got a hot dog?’ When the movie is over I go back to work for Mike. He likes to eat. I don’t know. I talk too much. I bore myself. Go look at the dolphins.” How did he like the dolphins? “Better than actors,” he said. “I wish I was cooking for them.”

The direction he indicated led past the company trailers and through a thatch of trees into a clearing by the open sea. There were two small buildings designed to look like the living quarters of a team of scientists doing experiments with dolphins, as well as a third building that housed the tank in which the dolphins lived. The script, freely adapted by Buck Henry from the novel of the same title, revolves around a scientist who does experiments with dolphins and who makes a startling discovery about them; the dolphins play as important a part in the story as the human actors. Out in the open sea near the set was a long wire road-mesh net forming a kind of watery corral where the stand-in dolphins lived. Above the set itself a red light went on, indicating that the two lead dolphins were working in the indoor tank. Nearby, a short, mangy-looking dog sat down as soon as he saw the red light. “Name of Spider,” one of the grips said when the light went off, “from Marsh Harbor. He’s nobody’s dog, he just comes here to play with the dolphins.” I followed Spider through a door and up a cement ramp onto the set in use.

The ramp came to an end at a cement alcove bordering a large oval tank full of seawater that was being pumped in and filtered. The tank had no roof, and the light from the sky was gray and bloated, shafts of red slicing down when the sun broke through. It had been raining and there weren’t many people around the tank, and no one was in it. “Hello, Spider.” a makeup man said, “we’re still working, sit down and wait.”Spider did.

The surface of the tank was clear, the water translucent; nothing was visible below a flat bluewhite sheen. Then, from an adjacent smaller tank attached at one end to the larger tank, something bulky loomed up and shot forward fast under the water. The shape looked like a torpedo, like a shark, was gone. From the far side of the tank. Nichols separated himself from a group of technicians who were asking him questions; he knelt and slapped the surface of the water gently with the flat of his hand. The dark shape appeared again and broke the surface. A head full of long teeth rose out of the water beside Nichols’ hand and produced an odd spectrum of sound ranging from a short whistle to a series of clicks to something approaching a Bronx cheer. Nichols stood up and held his arm straight over his head, making a few slight forward motions. The dolphin rose vertically three-quarters of the way out of the water and began to tail-walk backward away from Nichols. It crossed the tank and sank again. A young Englishman named Peter Moss who was the dolphins’ official trainer looked over at Nichols expectantly. “Not quite,”Nichols said, “he’s too good. Too regimented. Can’t we get him to do it sloppier?” Moss frowned for a moment and suggested it might help if Nichols sludged the hand signal. Nichols raised his arm again. When the dolphin began to tail-walk, he dropped his arm fast, and when the dolphin relaxed and sank, he raised it again. The result, in the tank, was a series of confused up-and-down movements, as though the dolphin were trying to rise out of the water to look over some obstacle but couldn’t quite make it. “That’s it.” Nichols said. “Fine. Let’s have him do that tomorrow night.”He took a piece of mackerel from a pail beside the tank, threw it to the dolphin; then he turned back to the group of technicians. Somebody called, “Better get the actors.”

A few lights went on under the water and the dolphin’s body stood out in silhouette, thick and heavy, sleek and fierce-looking. There were two of them swimming the perimeter of the tank in tandem. rising and falling to breathe, their bodies rolling out and back like the rubbery rims of two dark wheels.

While the lights were being set, I tried to remember some of the facts I had read in various places. The details, given accurately. had been more dramatic than any of the romanticized stories told so often about the animals.

Dolphins, as most people know by now, are Cetaceans, a family of air-breathing mammals that includes whales and porpoises. The bottle-nosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus the species Nichols was working with) has a brain that weighs about 1700 grams, as opposed to the average human weight of 1450 grams. Authorities on dolphin behavior have pointed out that the weight per foot of brain relative to body length comes to about 200 grams for the dolphin, 240 for the human. Dolphins have been selected by at least one scientist as the nonhuman creature best suited to communicate with humans, on the theory that man has successfully eliminated from the land any being that could prove his equal. Dolphins, it is said, will not attack a man; under certain conditions they will come to a man’s rescue. Documented stories of sailors saved from drowning by Tursiops go back to the ancient Greeks and can be found in the contemporary records of the U.S. Marine Corps. Yet. in training dolphins, many scientists have discovered that the animals have the intelligence to disobey. It may seem odd to think of disobedience as a mark of intelligence, but animal trainers have found this to be true. French poodles, for instance, make bad seeing-eye dogs, because their ability to think does not include formal disobedience: if a blind man starts across a street against a red light, a trained shepherd will balk, while a trained poodle will go along. And so the dolphin, once he has learned a set of signals—if he is put through his paces too often at one time—will finally do them wrong.

At times most people who write about dolphins, scientists included, begin to sound anthropocentric. Not only do dolphins convey simple facts to each other, we are told, but they have a highly complex language with which they can communicate abstract ideas. It is known that their range of sound frequency is ten times that of the human range. They can imitate noises made by humans, sea gulls, machines, et cetera, and they employ a system of ultrasonic frequencies for navigational purposes that works much the same way as sonar does. Present a dolphin with a problem and he will not only solve it but will communicate the solution to another dolphin in another part of the same tank with a slat of wood between them that makes visual contact impossible. But then a dolphin perceives the cosmos largely as sound, and is able to take in twenty times as much information through the ear as a human. They have apparently solved the refraction effect of water surface, and so can see in the air, without synthetic assistance, considerably better than a man wearing a face mask under water. Using both ear and eye, a dolphin seems able to absorb twice as much information as a man. Then, having perceived the information. a dolphin can store it as memory—being unable to write it down as man does for future reference. Dolphins are famously considerate of their own kind, and will come to each other’s rescue if wounded or unable to surface for some other reason. Any human who has lived in a large city knows that a man who falls to the pavement is likely to stay there for a long time before anyone else helps—if anyone else does.

While it’s a good thing to know’ some of the basic facts about the mammals before you see them, you must also trust your own eyes. Quirks of behavior attributed to them by laymen are often distortions: sometimes a basic truth is interpreted in such a way that the conclusion drawn from it is false. It is, for instance, true that dolphins have to surface in order to breathe: if you keep one underwater, it will drown. Thus “dolphins never sleep.” people say—a deduction about as scientifically sound as one dolphin telling another that “humans die once a day.”The proper deduction, of course, is that dolphins don’t sleep in the same way that we do. Occasionally they appear to doze on longflowing currents, and sometimes rest their heads out of the water on rocks near a shore. In a partially enclosed bay, a group of dolphins wishing to rest may form a solid chain from one bank to another, all facing the ocean inlet. Each rises and falls to breathe immediately after the one next to it, so that the entire chain, from a distance, appears to undulate in endless waves. The fact that dolphins can rest in a semiconscious state while rising and falling in the water is no more remarkable than our own ability to breathe while unconscious (which dolphins evidently can’t do). Their active resistance to gravity is not directed, as is ours, toward the soles of the feet, but rather is distributed evenly over their bodies.

And yet all or anyway most, of what you read about the mammals tends to float out of your mind when you confront one. There is something about the strength (a dolphin can kill a shark with a bump of its snout), something about the force withheld, never on display but always present, obvious, invisible. Perhaps because of this, there seemed an odd, unspoken connection between Nichols and the dolphin that first day. Most gentleness is founded on the possibility of violence, and one of the reasons for Nichols’ ability to handle large numbers of actors and technicians with great ease is that most people, though they won’t admit it, are a bit afraid of him. If he himself does nothing to cause fear, neither does the dolphin. The two working together made onlookers breathless. A potential explosion is more frightening than the noise of a bomb, and total silence has caused more terror in this world than any sound made in it.

On the set underwater lights were bright, and the overhead ones flooded the area above the tank with a flat glow. “There it goes again,” someone called, watching the sun disappear behind a cloud bank; “we’ll need more than that even with the lights.” “Let’s rehearse it.” Nichols said. One of the younger actors. John David Carson, was standing by, wearing a terry-cloth robe. He stripped down to his trunks and dove into the larger tank. The dolphin swam over to him without hesitation and tucked itself under his arm. In the scene being rehearsed, Carson swam with the dolphin toward the edge of the tank. He had a line of dialogue to speak while swimming, then followed the dolphin through the underwater opening into the smaller tank; after that he spoke another line. Because he was holding onto the dorsal fin, it was not the actor who controlled the speed of their approach, but the dolphin; and because the dialogue was interrupted by the dive, the speed with which the words were spoken was also determined by the dolphin. Nichols ran them through the scene four or five times, dropped a quiet clue about the dialogue, then signaled the dolphin to swim more slowly. The action was repeated and the dolphin obeyed. Nichols checked the scene through the camera lens and the first cameraman stood by.

While the rehearsal was in progress Lamar Boren approached the smaller tank and lowered himself into it. Boren is an underwater photographer, said to be the best in the business. His physical proportions are massive, and on land he is monumentally awkward. Underwater, what had been a lumbering mountain becomes a delicately moving object of infinite grace. The second dolphin, which had been swimming in the smaller tank, approached and nuzzled Boren familiarly. “All the dolphins like him,” Peter Moss explained. “He’s the only human in the picture as comfortable underwater as they are.” Boren, who was holding a hand underwater camera, watched the scene from beneath the surface as the actor and the first dolphin rehearsed it once more. The sun was momentarily free of the lower clouds and the rehearsal had been repeated by now about ten times. “Let’s get it fast,” Nichols said quietly. The actor and dolphin swam back to first position, and the cameras began to roll.

Before the action could start, the sun had gone again. The assistant director ordered everybody to stand by. When the sun reappeared, the dolphin started forward— and once more the sun disappeared before the end of the short scene. It was the twelfth consecutive run-through. “He’s not going to like this.”Peter Moss said. “I hope he doesn’t lose patience.”Who was “he"? Moss didn ‘t answer; he was staring silently at the tank.

Thirty seconds or so later, the sun came out and staved out for five minutes. Everybody relaxed and the scene began again. Halfway through the first take, the dolphin, who up to now had performed faultlessly in each rehearsal, reared its head out of the water, produced a few clicks and squeals, uttered the noise that sounded like a Bronx cheer, turned abruptly, and swam away.

“That’s what I was afraid of.”Moss said. “It was boring him.” Across the tank. Nichols was laughing softly. Both the cameramen were swearing in a gloomy way. “Let him alone tor five minutes, Nichols said. “Who wouldn’t get fed up?”

In the tank, the dolphin had taken hold of a piece of rope that was lying loose in the water and was proceeding methodically to wrap it around himself. The crew standing near the tank ignored him, the lights were turned off, and a few people left the set for coffee.

Presently there was a loud thrashing. The dolphin had got caught in the tangled twists of rope and seemed unable to surface. “Look out,” somebody yelled, “he’s drowning.” Peter Moss wheeled and dove into the tank. When he was within a few feet of the animal, the dolphin made a brief motion. freed itself of the rope, clicked, wheezed—and shot away. Moss swam back morosely and lifted himself out of the water. “Only pretending.”he muttered. “He likes to play jokes. It’s a strange sense of humor dolphins have; not like any other animal. I hope they hurry up and get this shot.”

Shortly after that they did, Nichols approved it. and the lights had to be reset for a different scene; in the interim, the dog named Spider played with the dolphin from the edge of the tank and Peter Moss spoke to me about his experiences with the other actor-dolphins.

“The first thing was to get them to eat,”he said. “Mike didn’t want ‘trick’ dolphins, or even pretrained dolphins. He wanted them fresh for the movie. These were caught off Key Largo last year. At first it’s always a feeding problem. ! spent eight months alone with them. I’ve trained dolphins a lot in Europe and in Australia—you have to go easy. You give them pieces of mackerel, blue mullet. squid. They’re not used to eating dead fish, let alone cut into bits, so they don’t trust it in the beginning. Sometimes you have to force-feed them.”He pointed to the second dolphin in the smaller tank. “That’s Big Momma—she was the hardest. Then came Candy, Ginger. Paddleford, and Bubbles. They’re in the outdoor tank. Buck" he pointed to the dolphin that was playing with Spider—“was the easiest. He’s the only male; he and Big Momma are the leads, the others are stand-ins.

“After they’re eating regularly, you touch them. Takes a while to get dolphins used to that. You stand outside the pool. In the beginning I prefer to touch them all over—before I get in the water with them. At first they won’t come near you voluntarily—that takes anywhere from a day to a week. Most of us whistle-train them. Take Buck, for instance. I’d blow the whistle, touch him on each flipper, then feed him. Pretty soon he’d make the move for contact himself. After that I went farther away each time and made signals, till he began to associate the hand signals with the touching. . . .

“I’ve never done a movie before, so I didn’t know what to expect. The most difficult thing isn’t the stunts—Buck and Big Momma both pick up stunts quickly—the hardest so far has been the nonspecific things. Like when the script says a dolphin has to ‘act worried’ or ‘look apprehensive.’ Or when Buck and Big Momma have to come four feet from the edge of the tank and stay motionless in one place in the water for a long scene with George Scott. There are just too many people standing around; grips and technicians and all. I mean, with dolphins, the whole of training is based on trust and routine. The trainer should be alone with them as much as possible, and with all this going on, they get distracted. They’re half as disciplined now as they were a few weeks ago.”

How had Peter Moss taught the male dolphin to look apprehensive? “I didn’t, Mike did that— some way. He has . ."— Moss shrugged “it’ll sound a bit silly, but they sort of understand each other, Mike and the dolphins. And he never saw one, not till this movie. No way of explaining that, some people have it. some don’t. Gets a bit spooky sometimes. Come tomorrow night and watch him work with George Scott and the two dolphins and you’ll see something else.” I asked what else. Again Moss shrugged. “Just something. Don’t know what you call it,” he said.

On the set the next evening, there were a good many people between the commissary and the dolphin tank; a series of quiet faces floated along the path in an unhurried way. There was a serenity about the place, and something unspoken, as though people were aware of a secret that could be shared but not uttered. By movie-making standards at this stage of the production, things should be close to disaster. The very fact that they weren’t was unnerving.

George Scott was swimming back and forth in the tank with Buck, the lead dolphin, whose name in the movie is Alpha. The dolphin called Big Momma, Beta in the movie, was separated from Buck by a sliding metal door that closed below the water surface. Peter Moss stood alongside the tank and so did several grips and electricians. Nichols was not visible. Scott, wearing a wet-suit, pulled himself out of the tank and sat on the edge, legs dangling in the water. Buck eyed the actor and then swam quickly across the tank, rolling once so that he was able to see in a wide arc. The narrow, sleepy-looking eyes of the dolphin took in everyone around the tank. The second time he swam across, he appeared to have focused on one person.

I tried to follow the direction of the lazy gaze. Nichols was standing alone at the far end of the tank. You could guess from the turn of the dolphin’s head that Nichols was standing there, and still it was startling. In the unreal glare of the electric floods it was almost as if the two had a purpose together known only to them. Director and dolphin were like two children who are having a good time laughing at something nobodx else knows about. Peter Moss came up silently and watched them for a while.

“See? That’s what I meant.” he said. “When it’s just the two of them. That’s what you can’t see. They don’t . . .”

He stopped and looked down, as though what he had been going to speak of was the secret, the thing that existed by inference, like a fact that can’t be stated without fading away. It had to do with something between the man and the dolphin-nothing specifically to do with either—and there was no one around them who wasn’t aware of it. People spoke in low voices and the splashing in the tank was the loudest noise on the set. “Right,” Nichols said, “he’s ready.”

The electric beams shone brighter and Moss said: “If you spend a year swimming with dolphins you get to know them in a different way. You see their moods change. Hourly, daily, weekly. Each one has a different personality—they’re not all the same. And it’s not true that they pine away when their trainer leaves; they’re independent creatures, more like cats than dogs, if you want to use that comparison. Sometimes you think, “Oh, well, they’re not so bright.’ And then you get frightened by the intelligence. Watch now.” Moss was pointing at the dolphin named Buck, who was resting his head on the edge of the tank, mouth open. Nichols was looking up something in the script and scratching the dolphin’s tongue at the same time. “He likes to have his tongue scratched.” Moss said, “He can’t do that for himself. He likes Mike. It’s a good thing he does, there’s no way I can give him the signals for this scene; I’ve got to stay outside the camera angle. The action is set. It’s a question of whether he’ll joke it up and play the fool, or do it right.”

Scott was standing at the edge of the tank: the actor, director, and dolphin formed three corners of a triangle whose proportions changed now as Buck swam from side to side. He had begun to swim in a starkly measured rhythm, the way a tiger paces a cage. It was the beginning of an important scene in the script; the scene in which Scott makes the discovery about dolphins on which the subsequent plot revolves. The character of the scientist played by Scott was that of a man from what might be called the old-fashioned modern school. He was a thoroughbred (out of Madame Curie by Konrad Lorenz), one dedicated to the notion that the proper study of dolphinkind is dolphin: a man who believes that any discoveries made about the mammals should remain private and not he put to cheap, practical use. The movie’s plot was concerned with his inability to cope with the converging politicians of the world, many of whom would kill to learn the secret of dolphin behavior in order to employ it to their own advantage. The novel from which the movie’s title was taken had a certain dishwater-drab quality even lor a second-rate thriller. Buck Henry, whose sense of craft as a screenwriter is often dazzling, happily retained almost nothing of the book but its title, and reconceived the movie’s plot from scratch. In this particular scene, nearly all the action, if not the acting, was up to the dolphin. Scott had not much to do but observe and respond—perhaps the most difficult business for an actor, in that it requires the most concentration with the least movement and without speech. Scott had next to no lines in the scene, and the mood itself was one of frustrated action. According to the story, the scientist separates the male dolphin from the female by an underwater door, then waits for the male to perceive the situation and to reach a state of anxiety intense enough to force him to communicate his wishes to the man.

The scene was rehearsed only once. Then it was shot. First, in action, the dolphin tailwalked backward past the camera facing the barrier that separated the two tanks; the lemale stayed on the other side. This was done on a closeup of Scott — one of those actors who seem to know within centimeters how far away the camera is. and whose changes of expression are practically invisible to the naked eye. Whatever the thing that has been unfortunately named “star quality" may be. it is not aiwavs given to good actors, just as acting talent is not always given to stars. Scott has both qualities, not always in the same degree. When he walks onto a stage, nobody else is visible on it, and other screen actors become pallid beside him. Or at least that had been true up to now: but now something else was happening. Scott’s concentration was matched by the performing dolphin’s to such a degree that it seemed likely the two together would eliminate each other. 1 hey were working as one&emadsh; each playing to Nichols and there was something frightening about the double performance, the focus, the silence. It was easy to believe that Scott was a scientist and that Buck, the dolphin, was being put through an experiment.

In the following shot, the dolphin swam around the perimeter of the tank repeatedly, bashing the closed door with his tail each time he passed it, while Scott looked on. The scene was shot without rehearsal. Again the tautness, economy, ol the dolphin’s movements seemed purposeful in action. The hollow clank of tail against steel door the only noise — came like an insane definition of violence. Al the end of this, the scene of acted-out frustration on which the story turns, the dolphin would have the ability both to speak and to understand words in English. Unable to break the door down, Buck was about to break the only other thing he could break: the barrier of silence between himself and man; the discovery would be made. Thereafter the script dealt with the uses to which that discovery might be put. What I myself had come to Abaco to find out was the truth about whether dolphins could speak or not.

Late in the night a garbled series of syllables, grossly put together, more noise than sound, came from the dolphin in the tank. It was not yet a unified sentence or phrase; it was a trv. Nichols would need time to go on with the dolphin, teaching, repeating, trying until Buck might repeat a cluster of sounds, sensible as a parrot echoes what it hears, perhaps with an extra quotient with some secret intelligence. The answer, then, was that if dolphins can imitate human speech, what they have done so far remains an imitation; the meaning of the words eludes them. They would appear to be satisfied with their own language, or incapable of thoughtful communication in ours. As far as the movie went, it did not seem to matter how the exact texture of speech was achieved anv more than it matters with a human actor. When necessary for film, actors can be. have always been, dubbed in by other actors or by wild-track takes of their own voices, since movie-making began.

What mattered to this writer was something else: the sense of total communication without speech of any kind. There did exist a peculiar, unnamed bond between Nichols and the dolphin for which there was no phrase known to dolphin or to man

i left the set between takes, before the scene was finished. I did not want to see the final sequence of that portion of the script until it was on film. Before leaving, I went over and asked Nichols whether it was possible that he and the dolphin were doing the same thing.

“What do you mean exactly?" he said.

“I don’t know what I mean,” I said. “You and that animal have a private joke. Something to do with purpose.”

“With what?”

“Yours. His. You know?”

“No.” he said. “We’re making a movie. An entertainment. It’s all we’re doing.”

Behind him the dolphin was splashing in the tank. I he wile of one of the electricians came over and asked Nichols for his autograph and then asked him if he would please explain the exact difference between a dolphin and a porpoise.

“They’re the same, more or less,”Nichols said.

“You mean that’s what a dolphin is?" the woman asked.

“Technically.”Nichols said, “you could say that a dolphin is a sort of nefarious porpoise.”He smiled.

The woman thanked him in a serious way and the splashing in the tank grew suddenly very loud and I went back to the hotel. I had seen what I had come to see, and there was only one more question to ask, Nichols answered very quietly. “When we’re done making the picture we’re going to let the dolphins go free.”he said. “What would you do?” □