The Secret History of Walter Mitty

By on Dec 17, 2014 in Fiction, Humor

Walter Mitty and friends

The movie starring Ben Stiller tells the story of Walter Mitty, whose daydreams constitute his secret life. The story is from James Thurber, an iconic humorist who died in 1961, leaving behind a passel of great yet mostly forgotten cartoons and essays in The New Yorker, plus the one short story for which he is best known, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” (a brief delight which made it into many high school English textbooks, but was mostly skimmed over by jocks on their way to football practice… since they already knew on which cheek their buns were buttered, having no imagination to conjure otherwise.) What you may NOT know is that Walter Mitty was a real person. The last name was not Mitty, but Witty. Witty was a friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and spent many a night merrily playing parcheesi and telling knock-knock jokes to Jay Gatsby, the Scarecrow, and Tinman. Then he was drafted to play hunchback by the Cincinnati Ducks, which at the time was a mascot marching band sponsored by the The Greater Cincinnati Rotary Club (before it moved to the ice, dropped “Rotary Club” and “Greater,” and added the word “Mighty,” becoming in effect an all-volunteer cult.) Witty couldn’t skate and so was clubbed (i.e. beat up) by the entire gang (i.e. team) using various sticks, sharpened stones, and rusty trombones. Looking up his old friends, he then discovered that Jay and the Scarecrow were, by then, both ashes, while the Tinman was selling aluminum siding in Tampa. And so Walter went out onto the dock of the bay, and was about to sit down and sing a song that would later make a million for somebody else, when a guy named Bubba Gump offered him a job fishing for popcorn shrimp. (This, incidentally, is how he became godfather to Forest, that lucky little snot who went on to live more pretend lives than all the cats in a Purina commercial, winning acclaim and a few Oscars to boot.) In the end, broken and alone due to being victimized by identity thieves and con artists (while always being a day late and a dollar short himself), Witty was placed on several Most Wanted lists, including Interpol’s Shoot-On-Sight list. Captured and jailed in Sing Sing, he then enjoyed a “mayfly brief” career in the lemonlight, singing original show tunes and ballads later stolen by Rogers, Hammerstein, Elvis, Dylan, and (even later) Prince… (until he escaped, of course, using a fake Nazi’s soup tureen as shovel.) At last, Walter moved into the apartment which is now over Kevin Bacon’s garage, and which was once a frontier revival house that he won in a poker game during the filming of Smokey & the Bandit (three twos beating two pair, aces and kings.) Bacon claims Witty came with the property, and that his age is now less than it once was… which is somehow tied to his reverse mortgage on the place (and which inspired a Brad Pitt film.) This brings us to the present-day rumor in Dollywood that the NFL has placed a fatwa on Witty for writing a blasphemous fictional memoir… which, in turn, is dismissed by Walter’s 40 year old son Witt, who says “That’s nothing” compared to “a hellish itching” of what may (soon) be described as “horrific diaper rash.”


Jonathan Lowe is the author of The Umpire Has No Clothes by Walter Witty, a sports satire. The audiobook version has just been published at, narrated by ESPN producer Barry Abrams. Jonathan is the editor of Tower Review.