Walter Mitty

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Walter James Mitty
First appearance "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
The New Yorker,
March 18, 1939
Created by James Thurber
Portrayed by Danny Kaye (1947)
Ben Stiller (2013)
Information
Nickname(s) "The Old Man" (in one fantasy)
Occupation unknown; various fantasy occupations
Title Commander, Doctor (in fantasies)
Spouse(s) unnamed except as "Mrs. Mitty"

Walter Mitty is a fictional character in James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", first published in The New Yorker on March 18, 1939, and in book form in My World and Welcome to It in 1942. Thurber loosely based the character on his friend, Walter Mithoff.[1] It was made into a film in 1947, with a remake directed by and starring Ben Stiller released in 2013.

Mitty is a meek, mild man with a vivid fantasy life: in a few dozen paragraphs he imagines himself a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a devil-may-care killer. The character's name has come into more general use to refer to an ineffectual dreamer, appearing in several dictionaries.[2] The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as "an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs".[3] The most famous of Thurber's inept male protagonists, the character is considered "the archetype for dreamy, hapless, Thurber Man".[4]

Although the story has humorous elements, there is a darker and more significant message underlying the text, leading to a more tragic interpretation of the Mitty character. Even in his heroic daydreams, Mitty does not triumph, several fantasies being interrupted before the final one sees Mitty dying bravely in front of a firing squad. In the brief snatches of reality that punctuate Mitty's fantasies the audience meets well-meaning but insensitive strangers who inadvertently rob Mitty of some of his remaining dignity.

Use of the term[edit]

When referencing actor Errol Flynn, Warner Brothers studio head, Jack Warner, noted in his autobiography, My First Hundred Years in Hollywood, "To the Walter Mittys of the world he [Flynn] was all the heroes in one magnificent, sexy, animal package".[citation needed]

In his 1992 biography of Henry Kissinger, Walter Isaacson records that on 6 October 1973, during the 1973 Arab Israeli War, Kissinger urged President Richard Nixon's Chief of Staff General Alexander Haig to keep Nixon in Florida in order to avoid "any hysterical moves" and to "keep any Walter Mitty tendencies under control".[5]

In the 1997 text Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer—a personal account of the events of the 1996 Everest disaster—Krakauer states: "Walter Mittys with Everest dreams need to bear in mind that when things go wrong up in the death zone (above 26,000 feet)—and sooner or later they always do—the strongest guides in the world may be powerless to save a client's life; indeed as the events of 1996 demonstrated, the strongest guides in the world are sometimes powerless to save even their own lives."[6]

In 2007, Automaker Ford admitted that it had to exclude from the list of potential bidders "Walter Mitty" types who had dreams but no experience, prior to the sale of their Aston Martin British GT car brand to a consortium of business interests from America and the Middle East, headed by Prodrive founder and world rally championship owner David Richards.[citation needed][dubious ]

The Guardian reported on 20 April 2009 that a leaked British National Party training manual described some members as "liars oddballs and Walter Mitty types".[7]

Terry Gilliam described his film Brazil as "Walter Mitty Meets Franz Kafka".[8]

In military terminology[edit]

The British military slang term, "Walt", a shortened form of the name "Walter Mitty", refers to someone who has aspirations to become a soldier, but none of the necessary personal qualities. This slang can also refer to someone who poses as an (ex-) soldier, but who isn't a former or serving soldier, or who poses as something he isn't or wasn't, such as regular army soldiers who pose as Special Air Service (SAS) members. In his book on selection for the SAS, Andy McNab wrote that people who give away the fact that they want to be in the SAS for reasons of personal vanity are labelled as "Walter Mitties"[9] and are quietly sent home.[10][11][12]

In popular culture[edit]

The character was played by Danny Kaye in the 1947 film version. Thurber opposed the 1947 production. In 2013 Ben Stiller directed and starred in another adaptation of Walter Mitty.[13]

Author William Gibson in his novel Zero History uses the term "Mitty demographic" to describe young men who want to dress like soldiers and have an "equipment fetishism" for products that are derived from police and military equipment.[citation needed]

In music[edit]

Walter Mitty is referenced in the lyrics of these songs:

Title Artist(s) Released
Silver Bird Mark Lindsay 1970
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Ian Dury 1977
Lady Killer Flash and the Pan 1978
Kitty Ricketts Radiator 1979
In The City Madness 1981
Walter Mitty Blues The Meteors 1986
Vacation Alabama 1986
T&P Combo 311 1995
All Dressed Up For San Francisco The Philosopher Kings 1996
Sammy Davis City Joe Strummer and Brian Setzer 1996
Dreams The Descendents 2004

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Politics of Walter Mitty, a Giant in His Own Mind". NPR. Retrieved 2010-09-26. 
  2. ^ "Walter Mitty". dictionary.com. Retrieved 2006-06-15. 
  3. ^ Walter Mitty. (n.d.). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved May 29, 2007, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/walter_mitty
  4. ^ King, Steve. "Thurber: Mitty and Dangerous.". Today in Literature. todayinliterature.com. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  5. ^ "The October War and U.S. Policy", October 7, 2003, National Security Archives
  6. ^ Krakauer, p. 275.[clarification needed]
  7. ^ "BNP says some members are oddballs and liars". The Guardian. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 01 May 2009.
  8. ^ Peary, D. (1986). Guide for the Film Fanatic. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780671610814. 
  9. ^ McNab, A. (2008). Immediate Action. Transworld. ISBN 9781407039268. 
  10. ^ "Walts - ARRSEpedia". arrse.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-25. 
  11. ^ "Walter Mitty Alister Hutcheson – 22 SAS Walt". waltermittyhunt.com. Retrieved 2014-01-25. [dead link]
  12. ^ "Find the SAS Walter Mitty in this picture · Causes". causes.com. Retrieved 2014-01-25. 
  13. ^ "Ben Stiller on the Set of 'Secret Life of Walter Mitty'". NYMag.com. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 

External links[edit]

  • Read the original short story on NewYorker.com [1]