The Greatest Gift: A Wonderful Life
December 18, 2011
Before there was “It’s A Wonderful Life” (the movie that’s become a heartwarming Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed) there was a charming little short story that seemed destined never to be read.
Philip Van Doren Stern was a writer and editor with particular expertise on the topic of the Civil War. One morning he awoke having had a strikingly clear dream about a suicidal man who was given an opportunity to view what life would have been like for those he loved had he not lived to impact their lives. Van Doren Stern quickly wrote down the dream in its entirety and then, over the following few years, worked it into a short story he called “The Greatest Gift”. When he believed it was ready to share, he distributed the story in hopes of publication but was met with unanimous rejection. Finally, during World War II, he printed 200 copies himself and distributed them as Christmas cards to friends and family. By chance, a Producer at RKO pictures had a chance to read the short story and was immediately motivated to purchase its film rights. At about the same time, Good Housekeeping magazine printed the story in their January 1945 issue with the title, “The Man Who Was Never Born”. In 1945, RKO sold the film rights again to Frank Capra who created the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, released in 1946. “It’s a Wonderful Life” did not enjoy box office success at all but still managed to be nominated for 5 Oscars – it won none. The movie faded away until the early 1970s when a clerical oversight resulted in a failure to renew the film’s copyright. It entered public domain and was promptly picked up by television networks whose frequent seasonal airings turned it into the classic it is now considered.
This holiday season, Graphic Image has issued a limited edition hard cover reproduction of Van Doren Stern’s first self-printed pamphlet which he shared with his friends. It’s a beautiful little book and can even be purchased in a fancy red leather collectible version. Take a peek at it here on the Graphic Image website. What a wonderful Christmas gift for your friends.
I love when a book is the star of the story!
I hope you’re finding time during this week to enjoy a few holiday classics – either in written or movie form.