On June 22, 2002 syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers died in Chicago. She was two weeks away from her 84th birthday.
Ann Landers was an original--earnest, honest and sincere. She had a sympathy for the people who trusted her, and people responded to her integrity. Her column was more than a job, it was a calling, and each day for 46 years she shared her understanding and common sense with millions of people.
Ann Landers' first column appeared on October 16, 1955. Three months later her twin sister, Pauline, began a copycat column under the name Dear Abby. In 1956 Pauline allegedly offered the Dear Abby column to the Sioux City Journal at a reduced rate, if they agreed not to run Ann Landers. The Sioux City Journal was the sisters' hometown newspaper.
Ann Landers decided her column would end with her death.
Not so with Dear Abby. In 2000, Abby's daughter, Jeanne, was introduced as the co-writer with her mother of the Dear Abby column. Amazingly, in an interview with Larry King on June 25, 2002, Jeanne said she took over the column in 1987.
Apparently, for at least 13 years, people thought they were writing the name and face on the Dear Abby column, but they weren't. Like Milli Vanilli, the best-selling singers who topped the charts until it was revealed they lip-synched all of their records, Dear Abby was something of a bait-and-switch.
In the same Larry King interview, Jeanne read a tearful farewell to her aunt, which read in part, "I love you. I know it's time to say goodbye, but the words are impossible to say because you will always live in my heart...your loving niece, Jeanne Phillips, aka, Dear Abby."
Jeanne mentioned she was offering her tribute, free of charge, to all the papers who had carried her aunt's column.
Two days later in a page one story in the Chicago Tribune, Ann Lander's daughter Margo Howard replied. She said Jeanne "had no relationship with my mother in decades." Margo added, "This is not about grief. This is about new clients."
She also said, "Her (Jeanne's) television appearance, flogging her 'grief' at my mother's death, in addition to her 'farewell' column, is beneath contempt."
In a way, Dear Abby is a brand, more like Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemimah than like Ann Landers. The principal writer changes and no one is the wiser because the column offers cookie-cutter advice and mawkish sentimentality. The author picture and shirttail can't be relied on.
• For more on the life of Ann Landers, see the Chicago Tribune
June 22, 2002, byline Jon Anderson.
• Transcript of Larry King's interview with Jeanne Phillips (the new
Dear Abby) is posted at CNN.com. (Transcript date: June 25, 2002)
• Ann Landers' daughter's reply to Jeanne Phillips was published in the
Chicago Tribune June 27, 2002, byline Rich Kogan.