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The Man Behind “It’s A Wonderful Life” — Philip Van Doren Stern

posted by Nell Minow

It was an honor to interview Marguerite Stern Robinson about Beliefnet’s Movie of the Month, It’s a Wonderful Life. Dr. Robinson’s father, Philip Van Doren Stern, wrote the short story, “The Greatest Gift,” and when no one would publish it, he printed it up himself and sent it out as a Christmas card.  Director Frank Capra and leading man James Stewart, both just back from serving in WWII found in the story the inspiring and meaningful ideas they wanted for their first post-war project.  It was not especially popular at first, but by the 1970’s it had become a holiday classic and no film is more beloved and more emblematic and influential.

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In her afterward to the book, The Greatest Gift, Dr. Robinson writes about three themes in the film that continue to be especially important today. One is the issue of “financial inclusion.” Another is “the awesome power of apparent insignificance.” “The business about the insignificance is very important. George wished he had never been born. It was only after he learned for himself what the world would have been like without him that he begs to be returned to his life. Clarence, his guardian angel, then grants George’s wish,” she said. The third relates to David Brooks’ article, “Social Animal.” She explained that the article raises the question “about which is better, to have freedom and adventure or roots and connections. [Brooks] comes down strongly on the side of roots and connections, which is certainly related to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”

I asked her if she had a favorite scene and she responded, “It’s all my favorite!”

Check out the rest of the interview in Beliefnet’s Movie Corner!

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