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10 Beautiful Dreamers

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We’re all subject to the occasional daydream, but some of our most indelible pop culture characters take it to the extreme. And thank goodness they do. Their little fantasies are hilarious, illuminating and endearing.


snoopyredbaronSome may prefer his Joe Cool persona, but I was always a sucker for Snoopy’s exploits as the adversary of World War I flying ace the Red Baron. It’s amazing how effective those “Peanuts” cartoon strips were. Just a beagle in a scarf and aviator goggles, sitting atop his doghouse, mixing it up in the skies over France.



Played devilishly by Tom Courtenay, Billy Fisher is the title character from the 1963 film, “Billy Liar.” He’s a lowly clerk in England who fuels his juvenile behavior with wild fantasies about heroic deeds and power.  Naturally, his situation spins spectacularly out of control.



Mary Katherine Gallagher is one of the many brilliant characters to come out of  “Saturday Night Live.” Intense, misunderstood and stubbornly independent, Mary Katherine is a Catholic school girl who lives almost entirely in her daydreams – which consist mainly of after school TV specials and coming-of-age movies. The reason it works is because comic actress Molly Shannon surrenders herself completely to Mary Katherine’s single mindedness.



“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” started out as a short story published in The New Yorker in 1939. Written by the great James Thurber, it had to do with a mousy, henpecked husband who escaped his mundane world via reveries of being a fighter pilot and a surgeon. In 1947, a film version of the story starred Danny Kaye. He was a great Mitty. A 21st century Walter Mitty is set to debut later this year, in a new movie starring Ben Stiller.



As long as we’re talking about Thurber, let’s say a word about the 1969-70 sitcom, “My World and Welcome to It.” It used many of Thurber’s drawings and starred William Windom as John Monroe, a guy with a lot of similarities to Mr. Thurber. Windom was excellent, separating the character from Walter Mitty by making him crusty and somewhat sarcastic. But the daydreams were still there, front and center.



Paging Spaceman Spiff! This is a case of personal fantasy as sheer joy. Little Calvin, the human half of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” loved nothing more than to place himself smack in the middle of a made-up adventure. My favorite was his intergalactic imp, Spaceman Spiff.



Those who are unfamiliar with the 2004 comedy, “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” are missing out on one of pop culture’s most engaging dreamers. Pirate Steve, played by Alan Tudyk, is a dude who finds meaning by dressing and talking like a pirate, 24-7. That’s living the dream.



Fantasy doesn’t get any more epic than old Baron von Munchausen (John Neville), who may or may not have have been to the Moon, the Underworld and back with an odd band of superhuman characters.



Here was animation brilliance, circa the 1960s. In cartoons that didn’t run beyond two minutes, you had a retired British military man, McBragg, relating some crazy adventure halfway around the world. It had all the elements I loved: an absurd British accent, an exotic setting and a series of bad puns. Jolly good.



And finally, inevitably, there is Don Quixote. One of the greatest characters in all of literature, he has been thrust into any number of movies, stage productions and TV shows. It’s remarkable, considering the guy dates back to Spanish novels of the early 1600s! Don Quixote is an ordinary man so taken with his favorite heroic books that he envisions himself as a knight, riding into the horizon and fighting for all that is good and true. So what if that angry giant over yonder is actually a windmill? This brings us to why we put up with the beautiful dreamers of the world in the first place. Who is to say that their delusions of grandeur are any less valid than the positive images and reinforcements we all use to inspire and motivate ourselves? Dream on, I say.

If you have a few more dreamers to add, I’m all ears.

Best Imaginary Friends

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Some fictional characters are more fictional than others. Take imaginary friends, for instance. In movies, TV, books and comic strips, they’re one step removed from the action – but they provide key insights into the minds of other characters. Here are some great ones.


Hobbes is an awesome, witty, slightly moody tiger who roars to life in the mind of a young boy named Calvin. Their comic strip adventures together – snowball fights, wagon rides and the like – are rivaled only by their hilarious banter. Calvin is all about impulse and action; Hobbes is a calmer, more playful influence.


Mrs. Beasley, the doll carried around by Buffy (Anissa Jones) on TV’s “Family Affair,” hewed pretty closely to the classic, imaginary friend. She was part security blanket, part confidant, to a little girl who had lost her parents.


Here was a great role for Brad Pitt. In the 1999 movie “Fight Club,” he got to combine his penchant for bug-eyed comedy with some macho coolness as Durden, a guy who liked to punch and be punched. This film’s cult popularity has taken on a life of its own, and Pitt is the big reason why.


A fictional, imaginary version of Bogie is the gimmick in Woody Allen’s Broadway play and 1972 film, “Play It Again, Sam.” Bogart appears periodically to give Woody dating advice, usually with comic results.


Aw, who doesn’t like Snuffy? Here’s the thing, though: Initially, Snuffleupagus was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. No one else around “Sesame Street” could see him. But then the TV show’s producers had a change of heart and made Snuffy a character who interacted with everyone.


Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film “The Shining,” based on the Stephen King novel, has one of the great imaginary friends ever. It’s “Tony,” and he exists only as the bent index finger of a little boy. Tony speaks through young Danny in a croaky voice; he knows there are evil spirits at the deserted mountain resort where Danny’s parents (Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall) are working. In a freaky sort of way, Tony is the only rational character in the whole affair.


Likewise, the audience doesn’t really get to see Harvey, the giant rabbit friend of Jimmy Stewart in the popular 1950 movie, “Harvey.” Although mental illness is certainly brought up in the movie (and stage play version), the central message seems to be that imagination and pleasantness are preferable to conformity and rational intelligence.


In “A Beautiful Mind,” imaginary friends (and enemies) hold the protagonist back rather than help him. Paul Bettany played one such friend, Charles, in this acclaimed 2001 movie biography of Nobel prize winner John Nash.


Pooh Bear, as everyone knows, headed up a stable of stuffed animal friends for young Christopher Robin in the Hundred Acre Wood. His lumbering, good-natured manner made him all the more endearing.


In the little-seen 2007 movie, “Lars and the Real Girl,” Ryan Gosling plays a disturbed man who pretends a sex doll, Bianca, is his girlfriend. Even more amazing, various relatives and townspeople decide to go along with the idea. Gosling is very good here.


Really, has there ever been a ball that sparked so much emotion, outside of the World Cup? Wilson, Tom Hanks’ silent companion in “Cast Away,” was a brilliant construct. Without him, the audience would have been adrift about Hanks’ inner thoughts and gradual descent into madness. WILSON!!!

But those are only MY favorites. Now tell me YOURS.