Today in 1946, the release of the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

It took a while for the movie to win its spot in the top ranks of holiday films.

Because of that, it might not surprise you to know that the story on which the movie is based also took a little while to make its way into the world.

The author of that story was Philip Van Doren Stern.

He wrote non-fiction for a living – history books, mostly – but one day in 1938 he woke up and got ready for the day with an idea for a fictional story, partly inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Stern’s story, called The Greatest Gift, is about a discouraged man who wishes he had never been born, and the mysterious stranger who helps him recognize his own value by showing him what life would be like if he really hadn’t been born.

Stern worked on the story on and off for several years and had his literary agent shop it around, but they couldn’t find a publisher.

So the author decided to put his story on a Christmas card, which he sent out to several hundred friends, neighbors and colleagues.

One of those cards ended up in the hands of an executive at RKO Pictures, who bought the film rights to The Greatest Gift for $10,000.

RKO tried to put together a screenplay that featured Cary Grant in the lead role, but eventually they sold the rights to Liberty Films and director Frank Capra.

At this point a couple things happened that helped the story become legendary.

First, Capra and his team drew inspiration from a real-life banker who pushed for his institutions to loan money to workers like the ones in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, people that the other banks wouldn’t approve for home loans.

Second, they cast Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

Initially the actor didn’t want the role: he was haunted by what he’d seen while serving in World War II and wasn’t sure he wanted to do movies any more.

But he channeled those painful feelings into his performance.

Stewart was able to show how, all along, something was eating at George Bailey, something that eventually led to his crisis of faith.

He showed George Bailey’s heart and deep feeling again during the encounter that helped the character find his way again.

The movie wasn’t a hit at first; in fact, it lost money.

But just like Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, the movie eventually did find its audience – generations of them, in fact.

And in the end, Stern even got his story published!

It was a happy ending even by Bedford Falls standards.

That pool built under a retractable gymnasium floor?

The one Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed fall into during the dance contest in “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

It’s real.

It’s known as the Swim Gym, and it’s part of Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.

And yes, there’s a key to make the floor open and shut.

It’s a Wonderful Life was Based on a “Christmas Card” Short Story by Philip Van Doren Stern (Today I Found Out)

Jimmy Stewart Owed His Most Memorable Holiday Performance to World War II (HistoryNet)

The Pool in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is Real (Aqua Magazine)

A mama dollar and a papa dollar a month on Patreon is all it would take to support this show