James, Danny, Ben, and Waldo: the many lives of Walter Mitty

James, Danny, Ben, and Waldo: the many lives of Walter Mitty

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to discuss a bit about different incarnations of Walter Mitty in this post. If you have not read or seen the works and want to have the joy of pure discovery, I would do that before reading this. I won’t get into a lot of detail

Geeks understand imagination.

We get the joy of picturing ourselves in different circumstances. Some of us go to considerable lengths to recreate the fantasy, notably with cosplay (“costume play”), and LARPing (“Live Action Role Playing”).

However, what we do is quite different from how Walter Mitty was portrayed in the original short story by James Thurber in a 1939 issue of The New Yorker.

One of the key things is that it was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (emphasis added). Walter Mitty doesn’t share his imagination with others…they don’t know  what he is thinking.

In today’s society, it might be quite different. Walter Mitty might be part of one (or several) online communities (even anonymously), playing out those situations with others.

Is Walter Mitty a geek?

Certainly, he is intelligent, well-informed, socially inept, and with a vision beyond those of the “mundane” folks in his life…I think that would fit a lot of people’s definition. 😉

He has a geek’s knowledge of detail…and he has fun in his mind, even if his real life is…less than thrilling.

The 1947 movie with Danny Kaye considerably changed the message of the character. Now, Mitty becomes involved in a real-life adventure. What he imagined in the past is valuable to him, but it is clearly suggested that being in the real world is a better idea…coming out of your shell.

That’s a very different feel. Walter Mitty in the short story might like to come out of his shell (maybe), but there is no suggestion that will happen, or even endorsement of the idea. In the short story, these ideas are a defense to a humdrum existence…not something that will give him real world power.

To be clear, I’m a big Danny Kaye fan, and like the 1947 movie very much…but it isn’t the same as the story at its heart.

There were radio adaptations (including one with Danny Kaye), and stage productions (it was part of A Thurber Carnival), but geeks may fondly (?) remember the 1975 live action/cartoon combo, The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty.

I enjoyed this odd 1975 Filmation production. There were live action pet cats and dogs, and one of them, Waldo Kitty, would have pop culture parody daydreams, which were done in animation. Waldo might become “Catzan” (Tarzan), or Captain Herc of the starship Second-Prize (a Star Trek parody), or several others. Like the 1947 movie, these fantasies actually helped Waldo deal with real world challenges.

Reportedly, it was challenged by the Thurber estate, and became a one-season wonder.

Now (releasing on December 25 2013 in the USA), Ben Stiller is doing a new version (starring and directing). While I haven’t seen it yet, it appears to be taking more of the approach of the 1947 movie than the story.

Certainly, it’s reasonable that you would have more character development in a movie than in a short story. I’ll be interested to see how this is…I’ve been hearing some good things about it.

One other thing: there was a TV series called My World and Welcome to It, based on Thurber’s writings, and starring geek-friendly William Windom. It wasn’t specifically Walter Mitty, though, although a fantasy life was certainly a part of this show (which many remember fondly).

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :)  You can also support a non-profit you or another geek (if you are gifting something) would appreciate…one of the ones listed here, perhaps: Weird & geeky groups you can support by shopping at AmazonSmile.

One Response to “James, Danny, Ben, and Waldo: the many lives of Walter Mitty”

  1. My take on…The Secret Life of Walter Mitty | The Measured Circle Says:

    […] wrote a piece about the many versions of Walter Mitty, and I freely admit that the knowledge of those informs my view of this version. I will do some […]

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