In the Wake of the Dolphin

updated 07/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

LAST YEAR, NEW YORK CITY BUSINESS-man Tom Norden was sailing off the coast of Florida when he spotted two dolphins swimming near his boat. So he jumped overboard. "My then girlfriend was going, 'What are you, crazy?' " he says.

But some habits die hard. After all, Norden, 40, spent four years in the mid-'60s filming with the most famous dolphin of all, the redoubtable Flipper. "Every time I see dolphins in the water, I like to go in," says Norden, who played kid brother Bud to Luke Halpin's teen heartthrob Sandy on the popular NBC series. (Brian Kelly played the boys' father, and several dolphins filled Flipper's fins.)

After more than 90 episodes filmed in Miami and the Bahamas, Flipper swam off into reruns in 1968. Norden returned to his native New York, where he acted in commercials, and later spent seven years as Gary Walton on the CBS soap Search for Tomorrow. But he soon tired of the modest roles he was offered. "I didn't want to be one of those actors who sits around spinning his wheels as the years go by, waiting for the next call," he says. After answering a classified ad in 1978, he got a job on the other end of the phone—as an executive recruiter. He is now president of his own head-hunting company in Manhattan, boasting such corporate clients as Citibank.

Halpin, 46, also found post-Flipper acting roles hard to land and worked briefly running charter fishing expeditions. Eventually he moved behind the camera, where he works as a freelance electrician, light rigger and marine coordinator for movies (including a stint as a shark handler on the 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again), commercials and TV series. "You can take the boy out of the sea, but you can't take the sea out of the boy," Halpin quips.

Apparently not. The never-married Norden, who divides his time between a Manhattan apartment, a farm in upstate New York and a waterfront house in Miami, is an avid boater and waterskier. And Halpin, who lives north of Orlando with his third wife, Deborah, and their son, Courtney, 3 (two sons from a previous marriage live nearby), still swims with dolphins at a Miami marine park every chance he gets. "They're incredible animals," says Halpin. "You can actually feel them thinking."

Though they receive no royalties from the show (seen daily on Nickelodeon), Norden and Halpin still get the occasional Flipper fan letter. And while Norden says he doesn't miss the celebrity, Halpin confesses that he still gets a rush when he's recognized. In April he got the star treatment in France at a film festival devoted to sea movies. "It was uplifting to have that kind of acceptance after all these years," he says. Pause. "Okay," he admits sheepishly, "I loved it."

CINDY DAMPIER in Miami and SARAH TIPPIT in Deltona, Florida

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