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The Greatest Gift: The Original Story That Inspired the Christmas Classic It's a Wonderful Life
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The Greatest Gift: The Original Story That Inspired the Christmas Classic It's a Wonderful Life

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  312 Ratings  ·  93 Reviews
Few films have become a part of the fabric of American life as much as Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life. Every Christmas, Americans reopen their hearts to Jimmy Stewart and his journey through Bedford Falls. Yet few of us know that the movie was based on "The Greatest Gift," a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, privately printed as a Christmas card to the au ...more
Hardcover, 80 pages
Published November 1st 1996 by Avery Publishing Group (first published December 1943)
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“You had the greatest gift of all conferred upon you-the gift of life, of being part of this world and taking a part in it. Yet you denied that gift.”

“I thought I’d lost you. Oh, Mary, I thought I’d lost you!”

The same idea of "It's a wonderful Life" but the events are a little bit different.

A wonderful story ..

Recommended to anyone.
Susan Jo Grassi
Oct 29, 2012 Susan Jo Grassi rated it it was amazing
What can you say about a classic? "It's a Wonderful Life" is a favorite movie that I have watched at Christmas time since forever. I just read the original story and was wowed at how a 24 page Christmas card could express such a special thought and then inspire a fantastic movie. This was definitely worth a read.
Dec 14, 2016 Patsy rated it really liked it
I'm glad I was able to read this short story that provided the idea for the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life".
George Lester
It's only short, but few stories can make you feel quite as Christmassy as this one! How wonderful! :)
Jun 19, 2017 Staci rated it liked it
I'm not sure how Frank Capra came across this story but I'm glad he did because otherwise we wouldn't have the film It's a Wonderful Life, which of the two tells the story much better and it's a story that everyone probably needs to see, at least once in their lives. There are a number of changes from the story to the film: George's last name is not Bailey but Pratt in the original story; he doesn't work at the Building & Loan, trying to keep it out of Potter's grubby fingers, but rather at ...more
Dec 25, 2016 Julesmarie rated it really liked it
It's a Wonderful Life has been one of my favorite movies from when I was little and my family watched it every Christmas.

How did I not know it was based on a book?

This story was delightful. Getting to read the short story the movie was based on made me love both even more. Wonderfully sweet and delightfully inspirational.
Oct 14, 2008 Poiema rated it liked it
Shelves: christmas
This little story by Philip Van Doren Stern is the one that inspired the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I picked it up on a whim off the holiday shelf at the public library. Like many families, we watch the movie perennially, and I was curious to learn its roots.

The story itself is very simple as compared to the movie. There is little character development, and some of the best known characters from the movie are missing, i.e. Potter, Uncle Billy, Violet, and the policeman/cab driver duo. Yet the
Joanna Wilson
Oct 09, 2012 Joanna Wilson rated it really liked it
In the 2011 Christmas episode "Holidays of Future Passed" on The Simpsons you'll find one of my favorite holiday jokes. Homer finds himself contemplating what his life would be like if he'd never seen the movie It's A Wonderful Life. Not only have we all seen the classic Jimmy Stewart movie umpteen times, but many of us have seen the endless re-makes, adaptations, and re-tellings of the familiar story told each year on television episodes, specials and movies. Some of them are done creatively an ...more
Miss Pippi the Librarian
Have you heard of The Greatest Gift? Are you familiar with the Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life? The Greatest Gift was the inspiration for that classic film! The first time I heard about it was after my high school production of It's a Wonderful Life. My parents gifted me a hard copy of The Greatest Gift. I was not familiar with this little book and mum explained that this book was the inspiration for the play I recently participated in at school. Thanks, Mum for the introduction!

I was so
Book Concierge
This is a short story that no publisher wanted. So, it was privately printed in 1943 and distributed as a Christmas card to a select group of friends. Somehow a copy found its way into the hands of a Hollywood producer and the author was stunned to get a telegram saying the movie rights had been sold! It took three screenwriters and a director and lead actor who believed in the story to eventually produce It’s a Wonderful Life (directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart).

To mark the 50t
Molly Cline
Nov 05, 2015 Molly Cline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the book that started a tradition for many at the Christmas-New Years holiday tradition. The book that the movie "It's A Wonderful Life" was written from. The book is different than the movie but not by much. I listened to it on CD and the guy that read it sounded just like "Clarence" from the movie. He did a wonderful job at changing his voice for the different characters and situations. I think listening to it brought the meaning 'home' to me more than it would have had I just read it. ...more
Dec 30, 2014 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
In case you didn't know, this short book became the basis for Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life." It's my favorite Christmas movie of all time, so when I found out about "The Greatest Gift," I had to read it.

Honestly, the movie is better. But for a short story, the book is still a worthwhile read. You can read it in an afternoon. I read it today while getting a pedicure. It is the book that inspired a worldwide Christmas classic -- for that reason alone, I feel it deserves five stars.

Whitney (First Impressions Reviews)

The Greatest Gift is best know as the inspiration for Frank Capra's beloved It's A Wonderful Life. This short story was a surprise to me not only because of how enchanting it is, putting life in perspective, but also because of the differences between this and it's adapted movie. First off, there is no Uncle Billy or Mr. Potter, George Bailey is not even George Baily, he is George Pratt. It made me realize how much Frank Capra added to It's A Wonderful Life, although how could you make a two hou
Dec 03, 2012 Greg rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: christmas
Anyone who likes the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" will love this book. It is the original short story that inspired the movie. Sent originally as a Christmas card, the movie rights were purchased and after several tries it became the beloved Christmas classic that it is today.

The short story has obvious differences from the movie, but it stands up on its own and is a great story to read and reread every Christmas (or any other time of the year). I especially appreciated the Afterword that was
Sep 23, 2013 Roberta rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christmas-books
In this book that inspired one of my favorite movies, "It's a Wonderful Life", George Bailey is George Pratt. And if George had never been born, Mary would've been miserably married to George's rival Art Jenkins instead of being an old-maid librarian. Some of the characters that are central to the movie, like Mr. Potter and Uncle Billy, are absent from this original version. Although Frank Capra changed some of the details of this very familiar story in order to flesh out the film version, he s ...more
Nov 05, 2011 Caitlin rated it really liked it
The story that was the original inspiration for the film "It's a Wonderful Life." The story certainly lacks most of the details of the film, as well as the bulk of its emotional impact, but it was still fun to read and to find little similarities here and there... Also, the illustrations were beautiful.

A fun quote...

"After all, the place you grew up in was the one spot on earth where you could really feel at home." (Currently experiencing this sentiment firsthand while home for the holidays...)
Dec 06, 2014 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, christmas
I was really surprised and excited when I saw this book in a store and learned that It's a Wonderful Life (a movie I grew up with and love) was based on this short story. This is a short and simple, but very profound story. I love it's message and everything that came out of it. This is a new gift edition that came out which includes the original story as well messages from the authors daughter and people involved in the movie.
Nov 12, 2014 Rainey rated it it was amazing
A dark and delicate slip of a story. Where the movie adaptation of Stern's story gives George an endearing history, the original incarnation of George isn't wrought with guilt over personal mistakes but rather is simply bored with his live. I found that this almost made his character more pathetic and pitiable- for he can not even see the small joys in his own life without trials to block his view. Take a few minutes to read Stern's very short story this holiday season.
Dec 17, 2013 Jesse rated it it was amazing
I read this book in an hour. The Greatest Gift is the reason why we have the Christmas Classic "It's a Wonderful Life" and I feel more complete for having read this item. Short, sweet, moving... this quick read has the power to make you sit back and evaluate how your life is. I think I enjoyed it more having seen the movie so much. I was able to read between the lines and it meant more to me. Highly recommended for the holiday season.
Dec 31, 2014 Becky rated it liked it
Had to read the inspiration to It's a Wonderful Life! Knowing the movie so well, I can say that Frank Capra really captured this little story. What I found most interesting was that Philip Van Doren Stern was a historian and wrote only non-fiction until this story came to him while he was shaving one day. He wrote it down and worked with it until he was happy and sent it out as a Christmas card. The right person read it and boom! we all get to enjoy it!
Nov 02, 2015 Joyce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, short-stories
Interesting to listen to (or read) as it's the basis for Capra's more famous and expansive film, It's a Wonderful Life. The story is so brief that it's hard to imagine it as the film, though the kernel is there. An afterword talks about the life of the story, how the author couldn't get it published and sent it out as a Christmas card. Capra discovered and bought the rights and created his memorable film. A must for fans of the film.
Jan 12, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
This is the short story that the movie It's a Wonderful Life is based on. It is a charming read and I really enjoyed it. The author originally sent the story out as Christmas cards in 1944 when he was unable to find anyone to publish his "fantasy" story. Well, fortunately for us, Frank Capra managed to receive a copy of one of the original cards that Mr. Van Doren Stern had sent out, and the rest as they say, "Is history."
Grant Aagard
Dec 29, 2016 Grant Aagard rated it it was amazing
I seldom list short stories but this is different. It is the genesis story that eventually became a favorite movie. The story itself is fantastic. However, if you are expecting the movie story you will be in for a surprise.
This book also has a fantastic Afterword written by the authors daughter in 1996. In it she tells how the story came to be, it's lack of finding a publication home and then details of it being made into a movie. It interesting reading for anyone interested with the fold.
Nov 18, 2014 Sylvester rated it it was amazing
It's a wonderful life has always been the movie that I watch whenever I am down in the dump. I've finally had the chance to read the original story and I could say it's simple and charming. Of course it didn't have the same effect as the film but it followed the same premise.

Always appreciate what you have accomplished in life, you presence has changed the world you know.
Mary Kidd
I kind of wish I could give it 2.5 stars. I liked it okay and it was short but I just like the movie better. They are similar but there are differences. The movie expands what happens in this short story and it is interesting and freely available on the internet so it's not a bad read but I found it okay.
Barbara VA
Dec 21, 2016 Barbara VA rated it it was amazing
Shelves: movies, holiday, 2016-read
How is it that until today I did not know that this was a book? IAWL is a favorite Christmas movie, I love Jimmy Stewart and I really am addicted to credits. But it was was the surprise to spend an hour reading this classic short story. I also listened to an interview with Stern's daughter telling of the writing of this classic short story as well as the filming of the movie. Lovely morning!
Amy Westgarth
Nov 27, 2014 Amy Westgarth rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Simple, sweet, short.

I've never seen It's a Wonderful Life despite it being on EVERY Christmas. Each year I intend to watch it, but end up missing it or realising it's on half way through.

I'll be interested to see what has been added for the film as the story itself isn't nearly enough material for 130 minutes.

A nice festive story with a heartwarming message.
Ben Wetzeler
This book is a very short story on how life is the most important gift for Christmas. George in the story claimed that he did not want to be born, and a stranger grants his wish. He then realizes all the people who are affected by his disappearance, and he begs for the stranger to change him back.
Jan 17, 2015 Natasha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
It's Christmas time and George, feeling miserable, wishes that he'd never been born. A mysterious stranger grants his wish, and as George travels through the town he realises what an impact his life has made on others.

A nice quick read, I'd ordered this book from my local library and (having previously seen the film) was surprised at how short it was.

Darlene Ferland
Dec 18, 2012 Darlene Ferland rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful find. . . A little book with a big impact called The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern is now available to everyone. Mr. Stern, over 70 years ago, created the story behind It's A Wonderful Life and distributed it as his Christmas card. A story that has touched millions of lives since 1943 and is still relevant today. A must read for the holidays. . .
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Philip Van Doren Stern was an American author, editor, and Civil War historian whose story "The Greatest Gift," published in 1943, inspired the classic Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life (1946).

Philip Van Doren Stern was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania into a family of humble means. His Pennsylvania-born father was a traveling merchant of Bavarian descent, who came to Wyalusing from West Virgini
More about Philip Van Doren Stern...

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