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    It was the story I had been looking for all my life!  A good man, ambitious. But so busy helping
    others, life seems to pass him by. Despondent. He wishes he had never been born. He gets his wish.
    Through the eyes of a guardian angel he sees the world as it would have been had he not been born.
    Wow! What an idea.  The kind of idea that when I get old and sick and scared and ready to die --
    they'll say, 'He made The Greatest Gift.'
              -Frank Capra

I'm sure your family does it too, sit around watching It's a Wonderful Life and speaking all of the lines moments ahead of the characters.  Younger folk may not recall that in the early 80's, before Republic Pictures reclaimed the copyright to the movie, it was on literally dozens of times from Thanksgiving to New Years every year.  And we all watched it, every single showing.    Somehow the upbeat message about the individual's capacity to change the world for the better achieved a special resonance in those heady Reagan Era days of promise.  Now it's shown on a network just once a season as an attempt at Event programming, but every red blooded American family owns a videotape and pops it in at least a few times over the holidays.

Turns out, the movie was based on a story by respected Civil War historian, Philip Van Doren Stern (one assumes he's from The Van Doren family of Quiz Show fame).    The story sprang full blown from Van Doren's head while he was shaving on the morning of  Feb. 12, 1938.  He rewrote it several times and then in 1943 sent it to his agent to see if he could get a magazine to buy it.  Unbelievably, they all turned it down.  So he had a couple hundred copies made and sent them to friends in their Christmas cards.  Someone showed the story to Frank Capra when he was looking for a project after the War ended and, if the quote above is to be believed, he instantly realized that he had an American classic in his hands.

The story itself is much more spare than the movie.  Characters like Uncle Billy, Violet Bick, Ernie and Bert and even Mr. Potter are all missing.  But the essential tale, of George Pratt contemplating suicide and a guardian angel intervening to show him the effect he has had on the lives of others, remains.  This is one of those rare instances where a movie actually improves upon the written version, but the story is still quite affecting and has obvious historical interest.



Grade: (B)


See also:

Philip Van Doren Stern Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Philip Van Doren Stern
-ESSAY: Premiere of a Christmas Classic It’s a Wonderful Life had its first screening on 20 December 1946 (Mathew Lyons, 12 December 2022, History Today)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: It’s a Wonderful Life: the perfect Christmas film?: The 1946 classic is a timely reminder that affection and loyalty can surface in the most difficult of circumstances (Alexander Larman, 12/21/20, The Critic)
-ESSAY:George Bailey’s America (JACK BUTLER, January 6, 2022, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Is It Really A Wonderful Life?: George Bailey's Dark Side (Patrick J. Deneen, December 19, 1997, Commonweal)
    -ESSAY: Christmas With Capra: Classic Films for Our Troubled Times (Louis Markos, December 14th, 2021, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: George Bailey Is A Localist Hero: Heroes aren't perfect, but they always save their towns—and, most importantly, the people who live in them. (Carmel Richardson, 12/24/21, American Conservative))

Book-related and General Links:



-TEXT: The Greatest Gift (Philip Van Doren Stern)
    -IAWL Bibliography (annotated bibliography of Frank Capra's masterpiece1946 film It's a Wonderful Life)
     -ARTICLE: Christmas classic had an unpromising start (Bob Thomas, Associated Press Writer)

    -FILMOGRAPHY: It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Frank Capra (IMDB)
    -ESSAY: Frank Capra’s Timeless Vision of American Exceptionalism (Will Sellers, December 2, 2023, AIER)
    -ESSAY: Whose “It’s a Wonderful Life” Is It Anyway? How everybody’s favorite Christmas movie about the perils of monopoly capitalism became a victim of monopoly capitalism. (RAY NOWOSIELSKI and DAVID CASSIDY, 12/25/23, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”: Elevating the Human Spirit (Onalee McGraw, December 14th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -It's a Wonderful Life Tribute (Alyssa)
    -IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) (Elizabeth's Reel Classics)
    -ARTICLE : Wonderful It May Be, but Not to Everyone : The authors of "It's a Wonderful Life" never forgave Frank
Capra for having others rework it. (David L. Goodrich, 12/02/01, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: There Is No Mary Problem in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’: George’s vision of his wife without him is essential to the film, but critics continue to miss its true—and profound—meaning. (CLARE COFFEY, DECEMBER 20, 2022, The Bulwark)
-REVIEW: It's A Wonderful Life (1946) (Tim Dirks, Film Site)
    -REVIEW: It's a Wonderful Life (A Film Review by James Berardinelli)
    -REVIEW: It's a Wonderful Life US (1946): Drama (CineBooks' Motion Picture Guide Review: 5.0 stars out of 5)
    -ARTICLE: Jimmy Stewart Remembers: "It's a Wonderful Life" (Jimmy Stewart, Guideposts Magazine)
     -ARTICLE: Holiday Movie full of irony  Author's work was 'Greatest Gift' to Jimmy Stewart, Frank Capra (MARK DAWIDZIAK,  Beacon Journal critic-at-large)
    -ARTICLE: It's a Wonderful Life' hits the big 5-0 with screenings and a celebration (John Hartl, Seattle Times)
    -ESSAY: It’s a Wonderful Life: the perfect Christmas film?: The 1946 classic is a timely reminder that affection and loyalty can surface in the most difficult of circumstances (Alexander Larman, 12/21/20, The Critic)
    -ESSAY: Mary Bailey is the true hero of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (Washington Post, Dec. 23rd, 2021)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Yes, It’s Still a Wonderful Movie (JACK BUTLER, December 25, 2021, National Review)
    -PODCAST: Episode #72 | "It's a Wonderful Life" 75 Years Later (Foreign Policy ProvCast, December 2021)
    -ESSAY: IT’S A WONDERFUL NOIR: EXPLORING THE SEEDY UNDERBELLY OF A CHRISTMAS CLASSIC: The quintessential Christmas movie is also a reverse noir. (MICHAEL LEDWIDGE, 12/23/22, CrimeReads)
    -ESSAY: Christmas With Capra: Classic Films for Our Troubled Times (Louis Markos, December 19th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: The Christmas Movie That Became a Classic Because of a Mistake: The role of accidents, chance and serendipity can be crucial to success. It’s the reason people still watch a black-and-white film every year. (Ben Cohen, Dec. 22, 2022, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: IT’S A DESTRUCTIVE LIFE (Patrick J. Deneen, 12 . 27 . 12, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Patrick Deneen is Wrong about 'It’s a Wonderful Life': Frank Capra’s holiday classic is a beautiful story about America, Christmas, family, and God. (BEN CONNELLY, DEC 24, 2023, Freemen News-Letter)
    -ESSAY: The wonderful life of 'It's a Wonderful Life' (Jeff Jacoby, 12/24/23, The Boston Globe)
    -ESSAY: Is it still a wonderful life?: The values Frank Capra celebrated seem to be fading in our times (Noel Yaxley, 24 December, 2023, The Critic)