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The Greatest Gift

The Greatest Gift (1943)

Short Story : The Greatest Gift (Reader's Scope & Good Housekeeping and as a Novel)
Published/Performed: 1943 (magazine) and 1944 (novel)

Author: Philip Van Doren Stern
Born: Sep 10, 1900 Wyalusing, Bradford County, PA
Passed: Jul 31, 1984 Sarasota, FL

Film: It's a Wonderful Life
Released: 1946

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About the Short Story The Greatest Gift:

"The Greatest Gift" is a 1943 short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern (September 10, 1900 ? July 31, 1984) which became the basis for the film It's a Wonderful Life.

The story begins during the Holiday with George Pratt, a man who is unsatisfied with his life and ready to commit suicide, standing on a bridge. A strange, shabbily-dressed and well-mannered man approaches him, carrying a satchel. The man strikes up a conversation and George tells the man that he wishes he had never been born. The man tells him that his wish has been made official and that he was never born. The man tells George that he should take the satchel with him and pretend to be a door-to-door brush salesman when he sees anyone. When George returns home, he does as he is told and is shocked to discover that not only does his wife not know him, everyone who knew him took different and often negative steps in life because George had never been born: including his little brother, who he had saved in a pond accident and instead had died without George to save him. George offers "his wife" a complimentary upholstery brush, which she takes, and then he leaves the house after his wife's new husband tells him to leave. Upon his departure, his wife's son pretends to shoot him with a fake cap gun and shouts, "You're dead. Why won't you die?" George returns to the bridge and questions the man, who explains to him that he wanted more when he had already been given the greatest gift of all: the gift of life. George, now realizing the lesson, begs the man to return the gift of life and the man agrees to it. George returns home to check if the man did, in fact, change everything back to normal. Sure enough, everything is normal and he hugs his wife, and explains that he "thought he had lost her". She is confused, and as he is about to explain everything, his hand bumps a brush on the sofa behind him. Without turning around, George knows the brush was the one he had presented to her earlier.

Inspired by a dream, Stern wrote a 4,100-word short story called "The Greatest Gift" in 1943 after working on it since the late 1930s. Unable to find a publisher, he sent the 200 copies he had printed as a 21-page booklet[1] to friends as Christmas presents in December 1943. The story came to the attention of RKO Pictures producer David Hempstead, who showed it to actor Cary Grant, who was interested in playing the lead role. RKO purchased the motion-picture rights for $10,000 in April 1944.[2] After several screenwriters worked on adaptations, RKO sold the rights to the story in 1945 to Frank Capra's production company for the same $10,000, which he adapted into It's a Wonderful Life.

The story was first published as a book in December 1944, with illustrations by Rafaello Busoni. Stern also sold it to Reader's Scope magazine, which published the story in its December 1944 issue, and to the magazine Good Housekeeping, which published it under the title "The Man Who Was Never Born" in its January 1945 issue (published in December 1944).

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Featured Cast (Names and Roles) of the Film It's a Wonderful Life:



 


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