Thanks to some relentless pressure tactics from the missus, I spent a few days last fortnight clearing out the three “electronics drawers” at home. Like most techno-addicts, I can never really throw away anything—old laptop power adapters, earphones that don’t work, data cables for phones we’ve never owned are all preserved like family heirlooms.
High flier: Cary Grant headlined Hollywood blockbusters for more than three decades. AFP
It was during this process that I came across a stack of old CDs from college. Loaded with movies and music, they were all at least eight years old. And not a single one has seen a disk drive since the day they left campus. But I still religiously carry them around in dusty, clouded plastic CD sleeves everywhere I go. Who knows when I will be overwhelmed by a need to listen to Status Quo, Wishbone Ash or Fool’s Garden again? (Answer: Never.)
This incident, and the impending deadline on this column set me thinking, Googling and connecting things till I finally ended up with Philip Van Doren Stern, American author, historian and short story writer of some repute.
Stern wrote and edited dozen of books, including several on the American Civil War, of which he was something of a scholar. Take, for instance, his Soldier Life in the Union and Confederate Armies, released in 1961, that talked about what the soldiers did during their leisure time when they were not fighting the war.
In the 1930s, inspired by a dream he had one night, Stern spent at least a decade working on a short story he called The Greatest Gift. He tried selling the 4,000-word magnum opus about a man with suicidial tendencies called George Pratt, but no publisher evinced interest. Frustrated, Stern decided to print it into 200 pamphlets, slip it into Christmas cards and send it out to friends and family in December 1943.
Stern’s persistence paid off. One of the cards found its way into the hands of movie producer David Hempstead who worked with RKO Pictures (RKO has, among other movies, classics such as King Kong and Citizen Kane to its credit). RKO wanted to convert Stern’s story into a script for Hollywood superstar Cary Grant but three scripting attempts ended in failure. It was as if a curse had befallen The Greatest Gift.
Frustrated, RKO sold it off to Liberty Pictures, which finally scripted and filmed it. Released on 20 December 1946 to mixed reviews, the movie flopped. Its failure perhaps even led to the demise of Liberty Pictures. Then, for some 40 years, the movie was ignored—at one point someone even forgot to renew its copyright and it inadvertently fell into the public domain.
And then, you could call it a Christmas miracle, in the 1980s, US TV stations began to show it as part of their Christmas specials. It became a smash hit.
It was in this environment of the movie’s high popularity but confused ownership in 1993 that computer game developers Kinesoft decided to try something new with the movie. What if you could see movies on your computer off a CD? There was this new operating system called Windows 3.1 that seemed capable of pulling it off...
These days, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is considered a classic, a movie that can lift even the most sagging spirits. And after lasting through many a trial like its protagonist, it was also the first movie to be ever released on compact disc. Why not catch it this Christmas to help get over a year of much turmoil?
Meanwhile, I need to get back to my winter cleaning. See you in 2009.
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