Lessons on Storytelling from the man who wrote “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Photographer: Christian Fiore Photography

I’ve always had a yen for George Bailey, the main character in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I love

  • His desire to see the world
  • His desire to speak honestly and directly
  • His grit, even in the face of his bank’s failure
  • His skepticism of a higher power

Did you know that the man who wrote the short story, held a grassroots campaign to share it when nobody wanted to publish it?

Philip van Doren Stern dreamed up the narrative of “It’s a Wonderful Life” one February night. It was a 4,000 word short story.

Even though he was an author and editor in the book business, nobody wanted to publish what was then called “The Greatest Gift.”

George Bailey threatening to jump into the cold winter water and end his life just didn’t gel as a Christmas theme.

Undeterred, The NY Sun reports that Stern decided to print the story in Christmas cards.

He sent the cards far and wide, to friends of his daughter. To friends of different religions and backgrounds.

It was a nod to his own mixed background. Stern was born to a Jewish father and buried in a jewish cemetery. But he shared the story out because he believed it was a story for all people of all religions in all times of the year.

One of Stern’s copies reached a producer at RKO Pictures.

He bought the rights.

Then Frank Capra, who ultimately directed the movie, purchased the rights

He asked Jimmy Stewart, just returned from WWII, to play George Bailey.

  • “It’s a Wonderful Life” never made money.
  • It was nominated for five Academy Awards.
  • But it didn’t win

But today, audiences around the world love it for the message: “No Man is a Failure who has Friends” George Bailey’s character didn’t realize how rich he truly was in the midst of his lost finances, opportunities and life. He was rich in friendships.

The family from “Home Alone” is seen watching it in an apartment in Paris, while waiting for news on McCauley Culkin.

It was ranked as the “Most Inspirational Movie of All Time” by the American Film Institute in 2006.

All because Stern had enough grit to send out his story in Christmas cards.


A young woman wrote me asking how she could break into the editorial and publishing world in New York

She lives in Florida.

I asked, “Did you create a body of work?”

A hiring party wants to see:

  • A. What your topic or message?
  • B. Whats your unique position on it?
  • C. Have you generated a body of work around it and created a following for it?

I teach you to create that body of work in my Mastermind. Draft your legacy. The way you think about things.

I’m currently interviewing candidates for the 2024 Class. Email me “GRIT” at joya@joyadass.com

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