It’s true. We are. Deep in our hearts, all men are James Thurber’s creation. Well, not all. There those few who actually do incredibly brave and dangerous things. They are the police officers, soldiers, mountain climbers, firefighters, deep sea divers, and others like them, all of whom possess extraordinarily stout hearts and levels of courage. And let us not forget men with multiple mothers-in-law, and veterinarians who endeavor to clean a cat’s teeth without putting them to sleep first.
Most of we male specimens, though, regardless of how brave we talk and how hard we squint, are Mitty rather than intrepid gun toting, whip wielding, two fisted, and by the way brilliant archaeologists. We’re quite satisfied, we day to day average Joes, to derive our excitement vicariously, from our literary and especially, movie heroes. It’s sufficient that we can cheer those bigger than life fictional conquerors of evil, those champions of virtue who are chased by hordes of delirious beautiful women clearly unattainable by . . . well, us. The women who chase us, are usually throwing rocks. But in that darkened palace of celluloid dreams, we only have to manage our popcorn and soda, and let our screen counterparts do the hard part. They are us. We are them. Cue the deep throated growl.
Of course, we closeted saviors of the weak and helpless have to mask our fearless, unflinching, unshrinking, undaunted, bold, adventurous, indomitable, and don’t forget gallant, heroism most of the time. I mean, those guys in the movies don’t have to worry about buying groceries, getting the oil changed, putting up with stupid bosses, or taking the kids to soccer and dance lessons. Still, in our minds and hearts, we know who we really are. Take me, for instance. I can go into my Mitty trance at any time, under the most innocent of circumstances.
For instance, I can be taking a casual walk on a lovely day. I reach the path where I’m going to turn the corner and suddenly I’m no longer me. I’m Kevin Kline, strolling easily, my left arm hanging casually, my right hand barely brushing the butt of my Colt revolver as I lean gently into the turn. On the far side of street, Linda Hunt, her name is Stella, cringes anxiously beside a lamp post. Out of the corner of my left eye, further down the street, Brian Dennehy sits in a chair in front of the sheriff’s office, waiting. He sees me, gets up, and walks to the middle of the street.. My pace is steady, my pulse a calm sixty-eight. I don’t blink.
I stop twenty feet away from him. The brim of my hat shades my eyes, but not too much. Dennehy says, “Hello, Paden.” I say, “Hello Cobb.” He tells me what a waste it was, what a sweet deal we could’ve had. I say “Yeah, Bad luck.” A moment passes. Then I say, “Goodbye Cobb.” He says “Goodbye Paden.” He reaches for his gun. I reach for mine. My gun roars. He staggers. His gun drops from his hand. He drops to his knees, then to the dirt. Justice is served. I look at Linda Hunt. I still don’t blink. I never blink. Fadeout.
Of course, not all of my Mitty moments are long ones. They are often no more than a momentary diversion. My daughter sees a small spider and screeches. I rush over to find it. By now it’s in hiding, and Robert Shaw’s Quint almost says, “He’s under the boat! I think he’s gone under the boat! He’s under the boat.”
You may start to give something to me, and it falls out of our hands to the floor. You’re not even aware that you’ve instantly become Lee Marvin, and that my inner John Wayne is thinking, “You, Liberty. You pick it up.” Ask me how I want something done. You’ll find yourself facing my Harrison Ford, in the desert, bloody from killing a Nazi soldier, grumbling, “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” That’s an especially good one, by the way. When I’m Indy, I can swim. And I can lie back against the sofa imagining Karen Allen dabbing at my wounds, blurting out, “Dammit Indy, is there any place that doesn’t hurt?” I pause for two seconds, then point to a spot on my face, then one on the corner of my mouth.
I have to confess that my Mitty movie personas also don’t respect gender lines. Sometimes when every possible thing has gone wrong, I close my eyes and I’m Vivien Leigh, crying and crumpled on that glorious curving stairway wondering, “Where’ll I go? What’ll I do?” But then I straighten, wipe my eyes, and exclaim “After all, tomorrow IS another day!.”
They also have (of course they do) their superhero moments. Let something go horribly wrong, and that’s Superman screaming to the sky “NOOOOOOOOO!”
Being an actor, some of my Mitty moments take me into more villainous territory. Actors love to play bad guys. I can be in a dreary conversation with someone who just insists on droning on about two or three hundred trivial things that don’t interest me in the least. With my eyes politely remaining open, my mind begins to gauze over until I’m Hugo Weaving’s wonderfully sinister Agent Smith, sitting across the desk from Keanu Reeves’ Neo. He’s panicking as his lips start to blend into each other until they become a smooth surface. I take snide pleasure in saying, “Tell me, Mister Anderson. What good is a telephone, if you cannot speak?”
Oh, I could go on and on, and in far greater detail, about my Mitty moments. As I said, all men have them, the realization of which was part of James Thurber’s greatness, that insight into the smallest tics of human idiosyncrasies. I think this tendency is more attributable to men than to women. Of course women have their own myriad of dreams and fantasies, but this need to be a dashing, swashbuckling, hero sort seems to me to be particularly male. We are stuck with it.
Now, there is the definite possibility that some of you started thinking, about two pages ago, what in the world this silliness has to do with, well, much of anything. And there I go again, fading, fading, becoming Clint Eastwood in a dusty saloon with Gene Hickman lying at my feet, growling, and I growl, “Deserving’s got nothing’ to do with it.”
But it does have a lot to do with movies and books. Consider it a gentle homage to the world of adventure fantasy, to the marvelous, gifted authors and actors who give us heroes to emulate, characters who take us out of our everyday world and into worldwide adventures. They vanquish the bad guys and always get the girl. And they make us think, even if we don’t admit it, ahhh, to be that guy. Colorful, strong, stalwart and heroic, they make us want to reach for the same qualities within ourselves. And that’s not a bad thing.
I’ll let you return to the mundane real world no, after leaving you with one last little Mittyism. It’s one that I think of a bit more now, as I grow older. I like to envision, in those quieter moments, that when the final frame of the credits fades to black, and the projection light winks out, Brandon Dewilde will be standing at the corner of Crafton’s store, calling out, “Shane! Come back, Shane.” Err, I mean Barry.