A man wrote a short story that he could not get published. So he included it in 200 Christmas cards he sent out to friends and family.
One of the cards ended up in the hands of a film director. He made a film based on that story.
It lost a fortune and the director never made a successful film again. He ultimately had to sell his production company and with it the rights to the film.
The company and the rights were sold several more times. The eventual owner forgot to renew the copyright of the film.
Which meant that it was now free to anyone who wanted to air the film.
So PBS did.
And then other networks followed suit.
They aired it around Christmas because they needed cheap programming to compete with newer holiday specials.
The film was It’s a Wonderful Life.
The story behind how this classic came to be epitomizes its name and central message every bit as much as the better known plot of the film itself.
Small invisible acts by people known and unknown shape our lives. It reminds us to send more such acts into the world – without thought or expectation of any grand outcome.
Although, as this story shows, this doesn’t mean that something grand won’t eventually happen. And when it does and others learn the story behind the story, they too will feel all the more grateful and enriched. Perhaps inspiring more simple invisible acts to made.
Thank you to Phillip Van Doren Stern for sending his story, “The Greatest Gift” out into the world and into our hearts.
Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.
Two of the most beloved family movies of all-time focus on a banker named George.
I’ll give you a moment to see if you can guess either or both.
The first, George Banks, works for Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in London. His job is securing investments from customers whose money can help build “railways through Africa, dams across the Nile, fleets of ocean greyhounds, majestic, self-amortizing canals, plantations of ripening tea.” In other words, he gets people to invest their tuppence to expand capitalism, infrastructure, the British Empire and of course, their bank accounts. The price for George is the blind pursuit of these returns comes at the expense of time spent with his two young children.
The second George works at Bailey Building and Loan. It’s a small community bank that reinvests its deposits back into the residents of Bedford Falls in the form of local mortgages and small loans used to pursue their dream. The price for this George is that he has sacrificed his own larger dreams to be the financier of smaller ones. His margin for error is slim and when misfortunate strikes, he fears he will lose everything – his reputation, family, and business.
In both cases, it is only through the intervention of a fantastical do-gooder that they are able to gain perspective and find meaning in their lives. In one case, it is a nanny named Mary Poppins and in the other a guardian angel named Clarence.
These films, both over fifty years old, amazingly still reflect society’s uneasy and misguided relationship with money and financial institutions.
We all strive to have “enough” to feel secure and comfortable – except we never seem to feel secure or comfortable, regardless of what we have.
None of us will have the good fortune of a magical nanny or angel to show us that comfort and security are more readily found in our families and friends than in our bank accounts or portfolios.
It will be up to us to remind each other to “let’s go fly a kite” with our children or remember what “it’s a wonderful life” really entails.