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Philip Van Doren Stern

Born: 10-Sep-1900
Birthplace: Wyalusing, PA
Died: 31-Jul-1984
Location of death: Sarasota, FL
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Author, Historian

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: It's A Wonderful Life

Historian and editor Philip Van Doren Stern wrote several respected treatises on the American Civil War, and biographies of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and Edgar Allan Poe. He also wrote several short stories in the genre of science fiction and fantasy, including the work for which he is best remembered, "The Greatest Gift", about a suicidal man who meets his guardian angel and sees what his town would look like if he had never been born. It was the basis for Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life. Though several of the story's supporting characters (Old Man Potter, the absent-minded Uncle Billy, the floozy Violet) were embellishments for the movie, the basics of the story are unmistakable in the written version.

Though Stern was a successful writer before and after "The Greatest Gift", he said that he found writing the story exceedingly difficult, and considered his first draft terrible and his second draft not much better. He let the story sit on a shelf for five years before writing a third draft he deemed acceptable, but even then his agent was unable to sell the story. Stern then had 200 copies printed and sent as a 4,000-word Christmas gift to his friends, family, and a few business associates -- one of whom forwarded his copy to an acquaintance at RKO Radio Pictures, where it came to Capra's attention.

Father: I. U. Stern (traveling salesman)
Mother: Anne Van Doren Stern
Sister: Miriam Stern
Sister: Henrietta Stern Farr
Wife: Lillian Stern
Daughter: Marguerite Stern Robinson

    University: Rutgers University

    Simon & Schuster Editor
    Bavarian Ancestry Paternal

Author of books:
An Introduction to Typography (1932, non-fiction)
The Breathless Moment: The World's Most Sensational News Photos (1935, with Herbert Ashbury)
The Case of The Thing in the Brook (1937, novel, as Peter Storme)
The Man Who Killed Lincoln: The Story of John Wilkes Booth and His Part in the Assassination (1939, biography)
The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln (1940, biography)
Abraham Lincoln Seventy-Five Years After (1940, non-fiction)
How to Torture Your Friends (1941, novel, as Peter Storme with Paul Stryfe)
Travelers in Time (1947, short stories)
The Drums of Morning (1948, novel)
Tales of Horror and the Supernatural (1948, short stories, with Arthur Machen)
The Midnight Reader (1948, short stories)
Tin Lizzie: The Story of the Fabulous Model T Ford (1955, non-fiction)
An End to Valor: The Last Days of the Civil War (1958, non-fiction)
Secret Missions of the Civil War (1959, non-fiction)
They Were There: The Civil War in Action as Seen by Its Combat Artists (1961, non-fiction)
Soldier Life in the Union and Confederate Armies (1961, with John Davis Billings and Carlton McCarthy)
Prologue to Sumter: The Beginnings of the Civil War (1961, non-fiction)
Robert E. Lee: The Man and the Soldier (1963, biography)
The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin (1964, Harriet Beecher Stowe)
When the Guns Roared: World Aspects of the American Civil War (1965, non-fiction)
Beyond Paris: A Touring Guide to the French Provinces (1967, with Lillian Stern)
Strange Beasts & Unnatural Monsters (1968, short stories)
The Other Side of the Clock: Stories Out of Time, Out of Place (1969, short stories)
The Annotated Walden (1970, Henry David Thoreau)
Henry David Thoreau: Writer and Rebel (1972, biography)
The Beginnings of Art (1973, non-fiction)
Edgar Allen Poe: Visitor from the Night of Time (1973, biography)
The Greatest Gift (1996, short story, published posthumously as book)

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