Picks and Pans Review: Dear Ann Landers
by David I. Grossvogel
Eppie Lederer (Ann Landers) and Popo Phillips (Dear Abby) are American originals, biological as well as media twins, whose advice columns are syndicated in more than 2,400 papers and reach an estimated 180 million readers. These two books examine the Abby-Ann phenomenon in often fascinating ways. Pottker, a sociologist, and Speziale, a freelance writer, spent three years interviewing people for their unauthorized biographical look under the now-thickening makeup of these sassy 69-year-olds (Dodd, Mead, $17.95). Born 17 minutes apart to Russian-Jewish immigrants in Sioux City, Iowa, Esther Pauline (Eppie) and Pauline Esther (Popo) Friedman have waged a lifelong competition. When, for instance, Popo became engaged to Mort Phillips, heir to a liquor fortune, Eppie impulsively proposed to a UCLA law student, only to jilt him a short time later for Jules Lederer, a local department store salesman who went on to found Budget Rent-A-Car. Then Eppie, at 37, landed the Ann Landers advice column at the Chicago Sun-Times. When she asked her twin to help with some letters, it inspired Popo to peddle a column of her own. Pottker and Speziale, whose writing is pedestrian but whose reporting is impressive, sift through a lot of information—and misinformation. They dispute Eppie’s claim, for example, that Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was once one of her sources of advice. Popo’s denial that there ever was a time when the twins weren’t speaking is contradicted too. Popo seems the less likable sister. (She once gave such a vicious interview to Ladies’ Home Journal—belittling Eppie about her plastic surgery and her painful 1975 divorce—that even Phillips and their two children condemned her.) On the other hand, while Lederer is often compassionate in her columns, she seems to have been a cold wife and neglectful mother. This conscientious book seems to confirm what columnist Laura Berman once wrote: “Solutions from either of these advice queens should have as much credibility as a lecture on ethics from Richard Nixon.” In Dear Ann Landers (Contemporary, $17.95), Grossvogel. a professor of comparative literature and Romance studies at Cornell, provides a cultural perspective. His study is provocative, although his prose at times is stilted. The author shows how Landers’ views changed as the country changed. She did a complete turnaround, for instance, on her early insistence that women remain virgins until marriage. Grossvogel’s assertion that Landers’ is “the most widely syndicated column in the history of journalism” might be argued with—by Abby, for one. Nobody, however, could dispute that the twins, lovelorn columnists once named the most influential women in the country—by both UPI and the World Almanac—are less than two of pop culture’s most amazing phenomena.