The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale
Philadelphia: David McKay Company, 1944. First edition. Illustrations by Rafaello Busoni. Hardcover. Duodecimo. 31 pages. Fine in a near fine dust jacket. Tiny rubs to lower fore corners of boards. Jacket has a tiny closed tear at head of spine, and spine is slightly sunned, extending about 1/2" into rear panel. Very clean and bright overall.
Scarce first edition of the story that was adapted into the beloved holiday classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life." Philip Van Doren Stern was an accomplished Civil War historian and author but perhaps his most enduring work is this little story about a man transformed by a visit from an angel who, granting the man’s own wish that he’d never been born, shows him what that would mean for his town and those he loved.
Stern wrote the story out in about 4,000 words, which he continued to revisit until 1943 when he sought to have it published. Despite his reputation as an established author, he could not find a publisher for the story, so in December 1943 he printed up about 200 copies himself and sent them to friends as a 21 page Christmas card.
A few months later, one of Stern's pamphlets caught the attention of Cary Grant, who saw it as a film with himself in the starring role. Stern sold the film rights for $10,000 and after some false starts the film ended up being produced by Frank Capra in 1946 as "It’s a Wonderful Life," starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
David McKay published Stern's story in 1944, after the sale of the film rights but before the film was made. This is a beautiful copy of that first printing.