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Walter Mitty

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Walter Mitty

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)
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 and appears 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 1
    • British military slang 1.1
  • Film 2
  • Music 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Use of the term

When referencing actor Errol Flynn, Warner Brothers studio head, Jack L. 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".[5][6]

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".[7]

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."[8]

In the 1999 autobiography John Glenn: A Memoir by Mercury astronaut and US Senator John Glenn, on page 198 he states, "The average person could Walter Mitty him- or herself into winning the Indianapolis 500, since everybody drove a car; all you had to do was imagine yourself going faster and making nothing but left turns. But space was so new nobody had a way to relate to it realistically."

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.

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".[9]

Terry Gilliam described his film Brazil as "Walter Mitty Meets Franz Kafka".[10]

British military slang

Individuals who impersonate serving or retired members of the armed forces are known as "Walts" in the British Armed Forces,[11] a shortened form of the name "Walter Mitty". In the United Kingdom it is an offence under the Armed Forces Act 2006 to wear real or replica military decorations with intent to deceive.[12]

In his book on selection for the Special Air Service, Andy McNab wrote that soldiers from other units who were applying to join, who give away the fact they were motivated by reasons of personal vanity were labelled as "Walter Mitties"[13] and quietly sent home.[14][15][16]


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.[17]


Walter Mitty is referenced in the lyrics of these songs:

Title Artist(s) Released
Silver Bird[18][19] Mark Lindsay 1970
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Ian Dury 1977
Lady Killer Flash and the Pan 1978
Kitty Ricketts The Radiators 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 Descendents 2004

See also


  1. ^ "Politics of Walter Mitty, a Giant in His Own Mind". NPR. Retrieved 2010-09-26. 
  2. ^ "Walter Mitty". Retrieved 2006-06-15. 
  3. ^ Walter Mitty. (n.d.). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved May 29, 2007, from website:
  4. ^ King, Steve. "Thurber: Mitty and Dangerous.". Today in Literature. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  5. ^ "Errol Flynn: Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 11, 2015. 
  6. ^ Julius, Marshall (1996). Action!: The Action Movie A-Z. Indiana University Press. p. 82.  
  7. ^ "The October War and U.S. Policy", October 7, 2003, National Security Archives
  8. ^ Krakauer, p. 275.
  9. ^ "BNP says some members are oddballs and liars". The Guardian. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 01 May 2009.
  10. ^ Peary, D. (1986). Guide for the Film Fanatic. Simon & Schuster.  
  11. ^ Green Chris (30 January 2015). "Homeless Veterans appeal: UK needs new law to stop ‘Walter Mittys’ posing as war heroes". The Independent. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  12. ^ "Is it illegal to wear medals you weren't awarded?". BBC News. BBC. 13 January 2010. Retrieved 30 January 2015. 
  13. ^ McNab, A. (2008). Immediate Action. Transworld.  
  14. ^ "Walts - ARRSEpedia". Retrieved 2014-01-25. 
  15. ^ "Walter Mitty Alister Hutcheson – 22 SAS Walt". Retrieved 2014-01-25. 
  16. ^ "Find the SAS Walter Mitty in this picture · Causes". Retrieved 2014-01-25. 
  17. ^ "'"Ben Stiller on the Set of 'Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  18. ^ "Silver Bird Lyrics",
  19. ^ "Silver Bird Lyrics",

External links

  • Read the original short story on [1]
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