|First appearance||"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
The New Yorker,
March 18, 1939
|Created by||James Thurber|
Danny Kaye (1947)Ben Stiller (2013)
|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. It was made into a film in 1947, with a remake directed by and starring Ben Stiller scheduled for release 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. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as "an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs". The most famous of Thurber's inept male protagonists, the character is considered "the archetype for dreamy, hapless, Thurber Man".
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
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".
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".
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."
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.
In military terminology
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 soldier (serving or former), or who poses as something he isn't or wasn't, such as regular army soldiers who pose as Special Air Service (SAS) members. The term is sometimes used to describe individuals who participate in "wargames" such as Airsoft, paintball, military re-enactment, and millitaria/weapon collecting that may not recognize that what they do for a hobby may not compare to military service.[dubious ]
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" and are quietly sent home.
In 1990, American soldier Teddy Temish was described as a Walter Mitty-like figure by a panel of Army psychiatrists who examined him after he was suspected of committing espionage for the Soviet Union, when his self-created persona as a spy was discovered to be an elaborate fabrication.
In 2008, Jim McAuley, an ex-soldier and Adult-Instructor with Lancashire ACF who boasted on Facebook that he had served with the SAS and killed more than 100 people, was termed a "Walter Mitty" by genuine soldiers who exposed him as a fantasist, forcing his resignation from the Lancashire Army Cadet Force.
In 2008–2009, James Shortt, Director General of the International Bodyguard Association, claiming SAS and Parachute Regiment service, was outed as a "Walt" by the British Army Rumour Service (ARRSE) website and subsequently reported on by Private Eye and The Sun.
In November 2009, Roger Day, a member of the UK public, was branded a “Walter Mitty” figure by war veterans for marching in a Remembrance Day parade wearing an SAS beret and an “impossible” array of medals.
In popular culture
The character was played by Danny Kaye in the 1947 film version. Thurber opposed the 1947 production. A new Walter Mitty adaptation is scheduled for release in 2013, directed by and starring Ben Stiller. Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and John Goldwyn produced the picture, while John Bard Manulis and Richard Vane served as executive producers.
Walter Mitty is referenced in the lyrics to the songs "T&P Combo" by 311, "Vacation" by Alabama, "Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll" by Ian Dury, "Kitty Ricketts" by Radiator, "In The City" by Madness, "Dreams" by The Descendents, "Walter Mitty Blues" by The Meteors, "All Dressed Up For San Francisco" by The Philosopher Kings, "Silver Bird" by Mark Lindsay, and "Sammy Davis City" by Joe Strummer and Brian Setzer and "Lady Killer" by Flash in the Pan. In 2008, the popular band Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra emerged; they have released three albums, and a fourth upcoming album is set to be released at the end of November 2013.
The official Peanuts website describes the character of Snoopy as "... an extroverted Beagle with a Walter Mitty complex", a reference to the many fantasy segments in which Snoopy imagines he is a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron. The children's television program The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty parodied the story as well as many others, with a mix of live footage and animation featuring anthropomorphic animals.
Author William Gibson in his novel Zero History uses the term "Mitty demographic" to describe young men that want to dress like soldiers and have an "equipment fetishism" for products that are derived from police and military equipment.
- Caspar Milquetoast, a cartoon character
- "Politics of Walter Mitty, a Giant in His Own Mind". NPR. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- "Walter Mitty". dictionary.com. Retrieved 2006-06-15.
- 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
- King, Steve. "Thurber: Mitty and Dangerous.". Today in Literature. todayinliterature.com. Retrieved 2008-07-14.
- "The October War and U.S. Policy", October 7, 2003, National Security Archives
- Krakauer, p. 275.
- "BNP says some members are oddballs and liars". The Guardian. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 01 May 2009.
- "'Walter Mitty' soldier's Facebook bragging exposed", The Guardian, July 9, 2008.
- Dunn, Tom Newton (29 Jan 2009). "Fake SAS man given Cabinet security job". The Sun (www.thesun.co.uk). Retrieved 6 February 2009.
- Squarebasher. "Cabinet Security A Shortt story". Private Eye.
- Smith, Michael; Swinford, Steven (2009-12-06). "Roger Day: the SAS impostor with an impossible clutch of medals". The Sunday Times (London).
- "Ben Stiller on the Set of 'Secret Life of Walter Mitty'". NYMag.com. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
|Look up Walter Mitty in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
- Sam Jones, Bounder with a barrister's wig preyed on women from lonely hearts page ads, The Guardian, Tuesday, 27 October 2009.