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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,014 ratings  ·  463 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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Start your review of The Greatest Gift: The Original Story That Inspired the Christmas Classic It's a Wonderful Life
A priceless importance due the film that inspired


It’s not rare if you haven’t read this short story or even know about it. But certainly it could be quite rare if you haven’t watched, at least once, the film that inspired.

The Greatest Gift, by Phillip Van Doren Stern, is the inspiration for the masterpiece directed by Frank Capra and performed by James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell and Henry Travers. I am talking about...

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

4 stars for this 1943 short story, and an extra half-star for its having inspired one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time, It's a Wonderful Life, the great movie directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart.
"Other men are leading exciting lives, but I – well, I’m just a small-town bank clerk. I never did anything really useful or interesting, and it looks as if I never will. I might just as well be dead. Sometimes I wish I were. In fact, I wish I’d never been born!”
George Pratt i
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christmas
“I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please God, let me live again."

Heartwarming and inspirational.

As a collector of Christmas books, I am so glad that I found this one as it was the inspiration for the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."

I didn't realize until reading the "Afterword" that he had thought of this story while shaving one morning and then spent a couple of years polishing it up before presenting it to magazines that would not published it. Since he couldn'
Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂

I read this here Just be aware that there are a lot of typos in this edition.

Also I must be one of the few in the English speaking world who hasn't seen It's a Wonderful Life. Maybe if we still had Sky TV...

This was such a sweet, heartwarming story with a moral of counting your blessings. It appears at first read to be quite a simple tale, but it takes quite a few turns, before ending up in a really good place.

I may never have seen the movie but I'm s
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best known for its movie adaptation ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, this really touching tale really highlights the importance of friendship and family.

As George Bailey contemplates suicide, he’s visited by a guardian angle Clarence.
Clarence reveals to George how many lives he has touched in the town of Bedford Falls.

The perfect quick read for the festive period, it really is a wonderful story!
Philip Van Doren Stern was a writer of History books so when it came time to sit down and write the fictional story, which was named The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale based on a dream he had, he said and I quote “I had to learn how to write fiction”! His first draft, he said, “was terrible” so he put the story away for a few years and after those few years he took it out again to work on it and still he wasn’t happy! In 1943, after showing the story to his agent who liked it, was afraid that s ...more
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I came across this book and realized it was the written story that became the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, I knew I had to find a copy, which was surprisingly difficult. But I did manage to find one at a thrift store, a copy that appeared to never have been read and in new condition with the exception of a slight wrinkle on the cover.

This story was written when the author woke from a dream, in 1938, which gave birth to this short, 64 page book, but not for many years. This was a deviation
The basis of the Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life. The story was published in a magazine and is too short for the character development and world-building that the movie is so good at, and the supernatural element is much more pronounced and better-explained in the movie. The story is still well worth your time, and barely takes any to read. ...more
antiquarian reverie
I love Frank Capra's It a Wonderful Life and was happy to read the very short story that started it all. The short story and the movie have differences but the basic story line and the meaning ring true. It was interesting to read the story and see the difference, which any fan of the movie would truly enjoy. The Afterword by Philip Can Doren Stern's daughter is interesting regarding the conception of the story and how it came to Capra. The book is really good but the movie takes it up another l ...more
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, cortos, navidad
Love it 😍, bumped to 5/5⭐️

Update dec 2019 I still love it

Update: First re-read dic 2018, I still loved it. I think I’ll make it a tradition to read it every christmas.

Rating: I loved it 😍

This is a wonderful, uplifting and beautiful christmas story.

The classic movie It's a wonderful life is based on it. The movie expands on George's backstory and his disappointment in life, his depression and despair. The movie makes the strange man an angel, Clarence, who is trying to get his wings.
Jeannette Nikolova
I'm delighted beyond words right now! It's a Wonderful Life is one of my favourite old movies and I had no idea it was based on a short story.
This is a truly magical tale, which I'm so glad to relieve. There is something so lovely and endearing in it. It may not be Christmas yet, but I don't see how having the Christmas spirit in you all year long is a bad thing. In fact, I hope to stumble upon such precious jewels more often.

...well, I really want to re-watch the movie now.
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was so cute! I read 4 different Christmas books this December and somehow this super short story was the best of them! It had everything I wanted from a Christmas story and it left me with a smile on my face. It was lovely :)
Monique S. (The Ginger Librarian)
With It's a Wonderful Life being one of my favorite films of all time, I just had to read the story that inspired the film! This is a short story about a man who, while contemplating ending his life, is visited by an angel who temporarily grants the man's wish to never have been born. In seeing the effects of his nonexistence on the town the man has always called home, as well as on the people he knew and loved, the man finds that the life he lived was more meaningful than he ever could have ima ...more
A Christmas short story with the meaning of friends and family come out through the soul searching from George, a good man but so busy his life is passing him by, he feels pointless and than Clarence steps in.

Philip Van Doren Stern a well respected Civil War historian wrote and rewrote, was turned down several times. He ended up sending it in Christmas cards to friends.

"He grasped his startled brother’s hand and wrung it frantically, wishing him an almost hysterical Merry Christmas."
Melissa Veras
Dec 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Melissa by: SpookySoto
3.5 stars.
This was very cute, heartwarming short story :)
Alina Maria Cristea
A beautiful story with a beautiful message, the inspiration for the beautiful Christmas movie "It's a wonderful life" ...more
Sandra BASIC
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Many thanks to the author for writing this short story. If he hadn't written it, Mr. Frank Capra would not have turned it into a most beautiful Christmas movie ever - "It's a Wonderful Life". ...more
This book turned out to be the original story behind the movie It's a wonderful life. It's a really short one, the introduction and the afterwards are longer than the story, so you will read it in about 10 minutes. I wander if I can find any more original stories of my favourite holiday movies. ...more
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, christmas
This is a reprint of the Christmas story that inspired the movie, 'It's a Wonderful Life.' When the author's story was rejected multiple times, he chose to print up about 200 copies himself and sent them out as Christmas cards. One of those copies ended up in the hands of Frank Capra, and the rest is history. The following is taken from the afterward, included in the book.

Of the process of developing the movie that would become a beloved Christmas classic, Jimmy Stewart said, of his meeting wit
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Que lindo!

..."You had the greatest gift of all conferred upon you, the gift of life, of being a part of this world and taking a part in it. Yet you denied that gift".

Muy apropiado para este día. Que lindo!
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christmas
Wonderful short story that inspired the movie It's A Wonderful Life. ...more
Shifty Reads
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christmas
Sometimes one short story can change the world. This one surely did, and it warmed my heart on this Christmas Eve.
This is where It's a Wonderful Life (the movie made in 1946) starts!

The author of this little book tried and tried to get it published but no one bit. So he printed it himself and turned it into a Christmas card for his family and friends. The story has bones that are in the same kind of places, but the flesh and features are entirely different. Being such a big fan of George Bailey & Co. it was no far leap for me to thoroughly enjoy George Pratt.

A short, sweet read. If you like/love IAWL, seek

“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.
Mary Lou
A nice little story - not great, but okay. Thank Goodness for Capra's vision. The movie took this interesting idea and developed it into a well-constructed, heart-warming piece of Americana, as well as making film history. ...more
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice to read a short story that resulted in one of my two favourite Christmas movies.
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very quick read but a good one. It could maybe have been longer, not something that I say very often but it would have been nice to spend more time with George and the other characters.
'Nathan Burgoine
Dec 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was wondering which holiday story or carol to base my annual queer spec-fic retelling on, I realized I'd never read the original story upon which "It's a Wonderful Life" was based, and so I rectified that.

It's much simplified compared to the movie, but still tells the same basic tale, and still has that lovely message of not knowing how many lives you may have touched upon without truly considering it. I think maybe next year this one will be the story.
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Cute Christmas story!
Reading In The Dark
RE: the story itself

Reading this story gave me a new appreciation for It’s A Wonderful Life. That’s not because it pales in comparison—it doesn’t—but because of just how faithful the film was to its source material.

Suffice it to say that The Greatest Gift is a more efficient, direct tale than its filmic offspring. This tale will feel very familiar to anyone who’s a fan of It’s A Wonderful Life, and frankly it’s remarkable how true the film was to the heart of this story. But there is something a
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Pelion Branch Lib...: The Greatest Gift 1 5 Dec 10, 2020 11:21AM  
Retro Reads: Dec. 22-28, 2018: "The Greatest Gift" 11 16 Dec 23, 2018 02:13PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Missing Cover - The Greatest Gift 3 16 Dec 01, 2015 04:53AM  
2015 Reading Chal...: The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern 1 11 Aug 17, 2015 03:57AM  

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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

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98 likes · 10 comments
“Wouldn’t do what?” George asked sullenly. “What you were thinking of doing.” “How do you know what I was thinking?” “Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the stranger said easily. George wondered what the man’s business was. He was a most unremarkable little person, the sort you would pass in a crowd and never notice. Unless you saw his bright blue eyes, that is. You couldn’t forget them, for they were the kindest, sharpest eyes you ever saw. Nothing else about him was noteworthy.” 1 likes
“My father, Philip Van Doren Stern, was shaving on Saturday morning, February 12, 1938, while he explored the idea for the story The Greatest Gift—which became the basis for the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. The idea had come from a dream he had during the night. As he wrote in his notes: “The idea came to me complete from start to finish—a most unusual occurrence, as any writer will tell you, for ordinarily a story has to be struggled with, changed around and mixed up.” In contrast to his other writings, mainly on history, he said that the idea for The Greatest Gift had emerged full blown, and he had never considered changing it. What he had to do, he said, was to learn to write it.” 1 likes
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