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.

A Christmas Tradition

December 18, 2010

Christmas stories are a holiday tradition I always enjoy.  While reading them is fun (of course!) these are particularly moving when heard in audio form on the radio or podcast.  Imagine baking Christmas cookies with a story being read to you or curling up with your beloveds in front of a lit Christmas tree and a warm fire all listening together.

The Gift of the Magi (above) is truly romantic and heartwarming.  A classic short story by O. Henry it tells of a newlywed couple in tight times each finding creative ways to purchase a meaningful gift for the other. In typical O. Henry fashion, there is a little twist in the tale. I was searching for a copy recently and every bookseller I asked lit up and nostalgically crooned, “Ooooo I love that story!” It may have been difficult to locate last week but about 4 store owners have now been motivated to order!

    Frederick Forsyth is primarily associated with his compelling thrillers and accounts of espionage (Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File… ) The Shepherd, a novella,  is as enthralling but has a sentimental bent to it and an element of the mysterious. It was apparently written by Forsyth as a Christmas Gift to his wife when she requested a ghost story. His gift to her, and us, tells of an RAF pilot flying home to England from Germany on Christmas Eve. He inexplicably encounters electrical difficulties in flight and just when he fears all is lost, an escort plane appears. Huge suspense is built up in a mere 123 pages or so and you will find yourself riveted. Every year CBC Radio broadcasts The Shepherd and it has become a beloved tradition to listen to for many families.

    Now this one I really do associate most with the radio reading.  A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas is classic Christmas fare. In my favourite version Thomas himself reads aloud and paints the most extraordinary images with his words and voice. “… snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.”  “… Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled...” It’s absolutely wonderful!

The countdown is on – hope you find a few moments in the busy-ness to enjoy a Christmas storytime.

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