The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947 film)

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Screenplay by Ken Englund
Everett Freeman
Philip Rapp (uncredited)
Based on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Starring Danny Kaye
Virginia Mayo
Boris Karloff
Fay Bainter
Ann Rutherford
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Edited by Monica Collingwood
Music by Sylvia Fine (songs)
David Raksin (score)
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • August 4, 1947 (1947-08-04)(Premiere-Chicago) [1]
  • September 1, 1947 (1947-09-01)(U.S.) [1]
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,350,000 (US rentals) [2]

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a 1947 Technicolor comedy film, loosely based on the 1939 short story of the same name by James Thurber. The film stars Danny Kaye as a young daydreaming proofreader (later associate editor) for a magazine publishing firm and Virginia Mayo as the girl of his dreams. The film was adapted for the screen by Ken Englund, Everett Freeman, and Philip Rapp (uncredited), and directed by Norman Z. McLeod.



Walter Mitty (Kaye) is an "inconsequential guy from Perth Amboy, New Jersey". [3] He is henpecked and harassed by everyone in his life including his bossy mother, his overbearing, idea-stealing boss Bruce Pierce, his dimwitted fiancée Gertrude Griswold, Gertrude's obnoxious would-be suitor Tubby Wadsworth, Gertrude's poodle Queenie and her loud-mouthed mother, Mrs. Griswold.

Walter's escape from their incessant needling is to imagine all sorts of exciting and impossible lives for himself, fueled by the pulp magazines he reads every day as an editor at the Pierce Publishing Company. But his dreams only seem to land him in more trouble. In one scene, while stoking the heating boiler, he dreams what it would be like to be an RAF fighter pilot. He is awakened from this daydream by his mother, who orders him to come to dinner. Believing he is still a British fighter pilot, he salutes, and places a red-hot poker under his arm—only to burn a hole in his suit jacket.

Things become much more complicated when he runs into a mysterious woman, Rosalind van Hoorn (Mayo), who just happens to perfectly resemble the girl of his dreams. Rosalind is working with her uncle, Peter van Hoorn, to help secure some Dutch crown jewels hidden from the Nazis during World War II. Caught up in a real-life adventure that seems unbelievable even to him, Walter attempts to hide his double life from his mundane family and friends. Eventually, he acquires the courage to stand up to those who kick him around.



Ken Englund and Everett Freeman reportedly began work adapting James Thurber's story in January 1945. According to Thurber, producer Samuel Goldwyn rejected the Englund and Freeman script in December 1945, and sent Englund to consult with Thurber, who worked with him for ten days. Thurber later complained that at one time the psychiatrist scene contained "a bathing girl incident which will haunt me all the days of my life." He was repeatedly consulted by Goldwyn, but his suggestions were largely ignored. In a letter to Life magazine, Thurber expressed his considerable dissatisfaction with the script, even as Goldwyn insisted in another letter that Thurber approved of it. [4] Thurber also mentioned that Goldwyn asked him not to read part of the script, because it was "too blood and thirsty." Thurber said that he read the entire script anyway, and was "horror and struck".

In moving away from Thurber's material, Goldwyn instead had the writers customize the film to showcase Kaye's talents, altering the original story so much that Thurber called the film "The Public Life of Danny Kaye". [5]

Goldwyn also briefly changed the film's title to I Wake Up Dreaming in response to a Gallup poll he had commissioned, a title that was actually a word play on the 1941 Steve Fisher novel I Wake Up Screaming (and the 1941 film of the same name). However, Goldwyn soon changed it back to Thurber's title in response to the angry protests of Thurber fans, as reported in a May 1947 article in Collier's Weekly . [4]

The film includes many of Kaye's trademark patter-songs and one of his best-remembered dream characters, "Anatole of Paris," a fey women's milliner whose inspiration for the ridiculous chapeaux he creates is in actuality his loathing of women. The Anatole character is based on "Antoine de Paris," a women's hair-salon professional of the era, known for creating preposterous hairstyles. The lyrics to the song Anatole of Paris were written by Kaye's wife, Sylvia Fine.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ranks 479th on Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. [6]

Adaptations to other media

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the November 3, 1947 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater with Kaye and Mayo in their original film roles.


Plans to remake The Secret Life of Walter Mitty arose in the early 1990s, with producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. considering actor Jim Carrey for the starring role. [7] After development that spanned over two decades, the film finally came to fruition with Ben Stiller as the lead actor and the director. [8] The film was released in the US on December 25, 2013. [9]

See also

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  1. 1 2 "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 8, 2014.
  2. "Top Grossers of 1947", Variety, 7 January 1948 p 63
  3. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", Variety, Dec 31, 1946, retrieved 2011-07-07
  4. 1 2 "Notes for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)". TCM Movie Database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
  5. Fensch, Thomas (2001). The Man Who Was Walter Mitty: The Life and Work of James Thurber. New York: New Century Books. p. 267. ISBN   0-930751-13-2.
  7. Michael Fleming (2003-03-11). "Paramount giddy over 'Mitty'". Variety . Retrieved 2009-07-16.
  8. Barnes, Henry (2011-07-20). "Ben Stiller to direct and star in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". The Guardian. London.
  9. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) - Overview - MSN Movies". 2013-04-18. Archived from the original on 2013-03-18. Retrieved 2013-05-05.