Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fascinating Feud

Identical twin girls were born on the Fourth of July, 1918.  Esther Pauline Friedman would be known as "Eppie" and her younger sister (by 17 minutes), Pauline Esther Friedman, would go by "Popo."

In 1939 the two girls, at the age of 21, got married in a double wedding ceremony.   Eppie became Esther Pauline Lederer, and her sister became Pauline Esther Phillips.

Some random double wedding-- NOT the Friedman twins. 

In 1955, Esther Pauline took a different name, Ann Landers, when she inherited an advice column started by the late Ruth Crowley.  The new Ann would become wildly popular and revolutionize newspaper advice columns.  By the time her column ended 47 years later, with her death in 2002, she was a household name.

The dashing Ann Landers in 1961

Perhaps the only other advice columnist with as much name recognition as Ann Landers during that time was that of Abigail Van Buren.  Van Buren was the pen name of none other than Pauline Esther Phillips, Eppie's twin sister.  For 46 years her column, Dear Abby, rivaled that of her sister's.

Dear Abby in 1961

Even more striking than the two most popular advice columnists of the 20th-century being twins is the fact that for most of those years, they were estranged.  It started when, according to Wikipedia: "Phillips says that because she applied for the columnist job without notifying her sister first, it created bad feelings between them for many years."  They had a public reconciliation some years later, but the feud seemed to continue, off and on, until Lederer (Esther Pauline/Eppie/Ann Landers) died in 2002.
The two sisters getting along in public
It's amazing that although they counseled thousands of people on family relationships, they couldn't get along with their own sister.  And the few things I read about the feud just seem petty and childish.  For example, they bicker over whether the other's column is any good, and one of them publicly criticized the other one for how old she looked. Of course, it's possible the media just played up their feud because it was more interesting.  But it's also credible that two talented sisters with a shared history and genetics would also share a drive to be successful, and that would make them very competitive with each other. 

I think it would have been funny to have written a letter to each of their columns seeking advice about my contentious relationship with my twin, and see if either of them would have answered it. 

As if the irony of two of America's most beloved advice-givers not being able to follow their own advice isn't enough, the story continues after their death.  Each of the twins had a daughter.  And both of those daughters also became advice columnists.  Eppie's daughter, Margo Howard, writes the popular column Dear Prudence wrote the column Dear Prudence, until it was taken over by Emily Yoffe in 2006.  And Pauline's daughter, Jeanne Phillips, took over her mom's column in 2002, and continues to play Dear Abby. 

Not Eppie's daughter, but Emily Yoffe, who took over the column in 2006.  Jeezus, all these names are hard to keep straight.  

Popo' daughter.  I didn't realize this wasn't the original Abby.  When I was a kid, that's the picture of Abby I remember.

And the daughters-- cousins to each other-- have continued the feud.  After Eppie's death in 2002, the two traded swipes at each other in the media.    

It all sounds like a bad soap opera. 

I'm surprised that more has not been made of this amazing story.  You'd think there'd be a book or a movie or a mini-series about the whole thing.   There is one book from 1987: Dear Ann, Dear Abby: The Unauthorized Biography of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren by Janice Pottker and Bob Speziale.  But that book is over 25 years old, and the title makes it sound kind of trashy.  A lot has happened since then.   

Scandalous! I may try to read it anyway.

The only other work I've heard of that covers this amazing story is a 2006 play by David Rambo called "The Lady With All the Answers."

Incidentally, and mostly unrelated, one of my favorite current advice columnists, Dan Savage, bought Ann Landers' desk at an auction after she died.


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