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Philip Van Doren Stern

The Greatest Gift

When he found himself unable to find a publisher for his story, author Philip Van Doren Stern printed up copies of the “The Greatest Gift” and gave them out as Christmas cards in 1943. Eventually, the story came to the attention of director Frank Capra, who explained later, “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…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.” Capra went on to turn Stern’s story into the cherished holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Released in 1946 and starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Gloria Grahame, the film received several Academy Award nominations and has gone on to become one of the most iconic films in movie history, as well as a beloved feature of every holiday season. Here, presented for your enjoyment, is the original Philip Van Doren Stern story. Happy holidays, all.

The Greatest Gift

by Philip Van Doren Stern

The little town straggling up the hill was bright with colored Christmas lights. But George Pratt did not see them. He was leaning over the railing of the iron bridge, staring down moodily at the black water. The current eddied and swirled like liquid glass, and occasionally a bit of ice, detached from the shore, would go gliding downstream to be swallowed up in the shadows.

The water looked paralyzingly cold. George wondered how long a man could stay alive in it. The glassy blackness had a strange, hypnotic effect on him. He leaned still farther over the railing…

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a quiet voice beside him said.

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