Philip Van Doren Stern (1900–84) is best known for his short story “The Greatest Gift” (1943), which served as the inspiration for the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Stern was an American author, editor, and Civil War historian, with over 40 books published. He graduated from Rutgers University in 1924. Among his works are biographies on Robert E. Lee, and Henry David Thoreau, the compilation The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln (1940), science fiction anthologies, and several historical fiction novels set during the Civil War. During World War II as general manager of the Armed Services Editions, Stern worked to distribute paperback books to active-duty troops.
Unable to find a publisher for “The Greatest Gift,” Philip Van Doren Stern printed 200 copies of this story and used them as Christmas cards in 1943. Van Doren Stern’s story came to the attention of film director Frank Capra, whose adaptation, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart, was released in 1946.