Friday, July 31, 2015

Tribute to Philip Van Doren Stern

It's a Wonderful Life wouldn't be a film without Philip Van Doren Stern. 

It was he who wrote the short story "The Greatest Gift" that inspired the film. "The Greatest Gift" takes elements of "The Gift of the Magi," Tom Sawyer, and A Christmas Carol and wraps them all together.

Stern was best known as a historian, who wrote biographies about Edgar Allen Poe and Robert E. Lee. He also wrote history books about the Model T Ford, a book called The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, as well as another book titled The Man Who Killed Lincoln.

I have an interesting story about The Man Who Killed Lincoln. It was published in 1939. As a former Civil War reenactor, a Civil War enthusiast, and someone who is enamored with Lincoln, I was excited to find a beat up used book called The Man Who Killed Lincoln at my favorite coffee shop/used book store in the town where I grew up and currently live.

I never paid attention to who wrote it. I got it, put it on my shelf, and proceeded to ignore it for many years. One day when I was going through my books, weeding out the stuff I have read or wasn't interested in reading, I grabbed that book and almost threw it on the "toss it out" pile. As I was tossing it, I caught the words "Van Doren" on the spine.

Source: Personal Collection
As a BIGGER enthusiast of IAWL than I was of the Civil War, I snatched the book back up, knowing that "Van Doren" was not very common. I was surprised to find out that not only it was the same name, but I had been oblivious of its existence in my collection for many years. A quick search on the internet confirmed that it was indeed the same author. The book quickly made its way to my permanent IAWL collection, where it remains.

I write of Stern today because it was on this day in 1984 that he died in Sarasota, Fla. The location of his burial is unknown.

He was born Sept. 10, 1900 in Wyalusing, PA. If he were alive today, he would be 114 years old.


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