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Tulsa author's book heads to big screen

By Sean Murphy Published: August 26, 2006
A Tulsa author's book that created a buzz in the financial industry with its simple message about life's greatest gifts now has been made into a feature film starring Norman native James Garner.

"The Ultimate Gift" debuted this week with about 60 screenings across the country. The film is set for mass distribution in spring 2007.

The fifth book by Tulsa businessman Jim Stovall, the slim novel is Stovall's first foray into fiction and was released with little fanfare in 2001.

"I wrote this little novel and never thought much about it," Stovall said. "Then, all of a sudden, something happened and I still don't know what it was."

Stovall said he got a call from a representative of Internet book seller Amazon who was curious why the company was receiving orders for 50, 100 or 500 books at a time.

"The financial industry were buying boatloads of these books and giving them away," Stovall said. "Then it started selling really well in India and China. It's all been this organic, viral thing."

The book has sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide and been translated into 15 languages. It tells the story of a billionaire family patriarch who leaves his fortune to his greedy relatives, except for one relative, Jason Stevens, who instead receives a series of 12 life lessons that culminate in the ultimate gift.

In the movie, Garner plays the rich patriarch, "Red" Stevens, and Drew Fuller is his young relative, Jason Stevens.

"He has to go to a Texas ranch and dig postholes in the hot sun to learn the gift of work ... and throughout this whole year, he becomes a decent human being," Stovall said. "The 'Ultimate Gift' is becoming a better person."

Like the character in his book, Stovall's journey to acclaimed author also had its share of life lessons. While at Tulsa's Charles Mason High School in the 1970s, he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease at the age of 17 that derailed his aspirations to play college football.

Stovall became a national champion weightlifter and aspiring Olympian, but those dreams were dashed by the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympic games.

He completely lost his vision at the age of 29, and one year later he started the Narrative Television Network to provide accompanying narration to movies and television programs for blind people.

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