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.
Some 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
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.
BARON VON MUNCHAUSEN
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.