A Brief History
On June 22, 2002, Ann Landers died after dispensing advice for nearly 50 years. Well, it was not actually Ann Landers who died but rather Esther “Eppie” Lederer who wrote the column. Eppie Lederer had taken over the pen name from Ruth Crowley who had used it from 1943 to 1955. Under Eppie Lederer’s penmanship, Ask Ann Landers became a national phenomenon that launched the popularity of syndicated advice columns in newspapers. Eventually she even became owner of the copyright. Her status as a cultural icon was only rivaled by that of her twin sister, Pauline Phillips, who wrote a parallel column known as Dear Abby under the nom de plume (that is French for pen name) of Abigail Van Buren. The fact that one sister basically copied the other, competed for newspaper space with her, and then added the triple insult of eventually surpassing her in world-wide syndication and popular following, caused an estrangement that lasted at least 5 years or according to some accounts till shortly before Eppie Lederer’s death.
In their columns both women gave advice on a whole range of topics, including relationships, dating, marriage and divorce, lifestyle issues, parenting dilemmas, conflicts, social get-togethers, holiday decorum, proper etiquette and sometimes even legal issues, oftentimes not without controversy. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, both sisters popularized the legend that Halloween candy was dangerous. The myth that evil strangers put poison and sharp objects in Halloween candy which they then hand out to trick-or-treaters had been around for ages, but in one of her columns dealing with this threat, Abigail van Buren wrote, “Somebody’s child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade.” Even Ann Landers jumped on this bandwagon and later wrote in one of her columns, “In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy. It is no longer safe to let your child eat treats that come from strangers.” Although there had to those dates never been a documented case of such tampering, these comments set off a mild hysteria as parents carefully inspected their children’s candy. As a child of the 1980s, the author of this article can attest that after every Halloween she took part in as child, she had to lay out her booty on a table for her mother to check with her discerning eye.
Aside from the occasional controversy, what made these two sisters so popular was the fact that when they went into syndication, there were not that many advice columnists available to a predominantly female audience. And although today, advice columns are a dime a dozen and often hosted by experts with degrees and credentials, Ann Landers and Abigail van Buren were real women that they gave real advice to real people in a way that the reader felt taken seriously, despite the comedic touch they often employed. And while many read these columns to find others with similar problems and to not feel alone, others who might not need advice like reading them for their entertainment value and, God forbid!, even “Schadenfreude” which is a German expression and basically translates into “deriving pleasure or obtaining delight from someone else’s misfortune and/or struggles”. It must, however, not be forgotten that no matter how insignificant someone else’s problems may seem, they are big to them.
So, what is the status of these two columns today?
After Eppie Lederer’s death and in accordance with her wishes, syndication of Ask Ann Landers ended on July 27,2002 when her last prepared material ran out. Today a similar advice column, known as Annie’s Mailbox, which capitalizes on the popularity of the original column, can be found in over 800 newspapers.
As for Dear Abby, it is still in syndication following Pauline Phillips’ death in 2013, as it had already basically been taken over by her daughter Jeanne Phillips in 2002 when the progression of Pauline Phillips’ Alzheimer’s made it impossible for her to continue to write. Today Jeanne Phillips’ Dear Abby is syndicated in approx. 1,400 newspapers, read by approx. 10 million people daily and receives about 10,000 letters a week from readers seeking advice.
And on this note, with the advent of online advice columns, the author of this article is offering anyone seeking advice on any topic the opportunity to ask any question and is ready to provide her feedback. It must be kept in mind though that this is purely for entertainment purposes and that the author is simply giving her opinion. For really serious issues, please always consult your doctor, psychologist or lawyer as well, but for everything else, go ahead and Ask Beth Michaels 🙂
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you miss Ann Landers? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Landers, Ann. Best of Ann Landers: Her Favorite Letters of All Time. Ballantine Books, 1997.
Landers, Ann. The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, A to Z: Improve Your Life Emotionally, Medically, Sexually, Socially, Spiritually. Galahad Books, 1981.