Monday, June 22, 2009

I Miss Ann Landers

by Julia Buckley
Back when I was a kid, my family had a subscription to the Chicago Sun-Times; one of my daily reads at the breakfast table, aside from the funnies and Sidney Omarr's horoscope, was Ann Landers' advice column. I thought of Ann Landers today, because the NY Times website reminded me that she died on this date in 2002.

"Ann Landers" was really Chicago reporter Eppie Lederer, who won the column in 1955 after the death of Ruth Crowley, who had previously written the "Ask Ann Landers" column and who had died right around the time that Lederer was looking for a job in Chicago. Lederer entered a contest to become the next "Ask Ann Landers" author, and she won.

For many years, I read letters to Ann Landers and Lederer's responses--sometimes tart, sometimes compassionate, but ever offering a large dose of common sense. I didn't always agree with her advice, but the column made for lots of family discussion (my family LOVED to talk at the table, and still does, much to my restless husband's chagrin).

"Ann Landers" became such a household name in Chicago (and in all the other cities where her column was syndicated) that I can't think of anyone who has ever succeeded her as America's advice columnist. Nowadays people air their problems (often their really seedy problems) in other venues: tv talk shows and court tv, where authorities like Judge Judy dispense the same sort of common sense that Ann Landers once did in her little column.

But I miss being able to read her advice and to apply it, sometimes, to my own life. Ann Landers didn't suffer fools gladly, and she often provided a mirror for people to look at their own behavior and see it for what it was, good or bad.

I found a website that offers classic Ann Landers advice columns; you can read some here

The old letters are fun to read, because people's problems are universal, and the advice applies today just as it did then.

And please excuse my overuse of parenthesis in this column. I seem to be full of non-essential information today. :)

(photo link here).


Lonnie Cruse said...


I LOVED reading both Dear Ann and her twin sister, Dear Abby. I believe Ann was always a tad more popular than Abby, which, of course, caused problems between them.

Say, do you remember the brouhahah or nationwide war started in that column over which way to put the toilet paper on the holder? Meaning should the paper roll off from the back of the roll or the front. Such earth-shaking questions.

Then there was the famous meatloaf recipe fiasco.

Not to mention when Ms. Landers mentioned, in answering a reader's question, that "she" ironed everything including her own bed sheets? Bawhahahah! Talk about a flame war! I *think* she finally admitted she had a housekeeper who ironed them.

Thanks for the memories, today's advice columnists can't hold a candle.

Julia Buckley said...

Lonnie, I DO remember the toilet paper debate--in fact I think of it almost every time I put a new roll of paper on our holder. :)

My father was particularly disgusted with that debate, horrified that they would waste ink on it. But I thought it was a great lesson in the way human conflict can become polarized and therefore never resolved.

What was the meatloaf thing?

Sandra Parshall said...

I loved Ann Landers, never missed her column, and I remember the toilet paper and ironed sheets controversies! Would anyone other than Martha Stewart dare suggest these days that women iron their sheets? (Martha, like Abby, has someone to do it for her, I'm sure.)Oh, how the world has changed.

My local paper, The Washington Post, has an advice column now (Ask Amy) that usually sounds as if it's written for twenty-somethings. It lacks the tone of stern authority that Ann Landers had. Ann and Abby will never be replaced. They were the only two of their kind.

Julia Buckley said...

I agree, Sandra. Remember when Ann got stern and called someone "Bub?" :)

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I went to college with Margo Lederer, Ann's daughter and Abby's niece (didn't know her, but I saw her around), and I think she's a columnist herself today. Anyone know anything about that?

Julia Buckley said...

I know that she is divorced from actor Ken Howard, and I think she still goes by Margo Howard now.

I read somewhere that she had an angry exchange with Landers' "replacement," Amy Dickinson (whom Sandy mentioned), because she accused Dickinson of trying to benefit from Landers' fame--or some such thing.