WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

The "original" Dear Abby -- Pauline Friedman Phillips - dies at the age of 94

Far above the political columnists, one syndicated newspaper columnist was a household name in America: Dear Abby.

It wasn't her real name, of course: Pauline Esther Friedman - nickname, Popo - was born on Independence Day 1918 smack dab in the middle of the U.S. Midwest: Sioux City, Iowa, just 17 minutes AFTER her identical twin, Esther Pauline, nickname, Eppy.

Like a number of other journalists / entertainers of that era, their Jewish family had fled eastern Europe (Russia) because of a pogrom.

Pauline chose her pen names, "Abigail" from The Bible and "Van Buren" from Martin Van Buren, the 8th President.

Esther took "Ann Landers" from an existing columnist's name.

Irony: These two sisters who dispensed advice to millions were long estranged. It had something to do with Pauline (Abby) applying to write an advice column without telling her sister.

I met and interviewed Pauline Friedman Phillips - Abigail Van Buren - when she came to my suburban Chicago high school to deliver a speech. I guess I was 13 or 14. I don't quite remember what I asked her, but I suppose it would've been about whether it was useful or responsible to dispense advice in a couple of pithy paragraphs. I remember two things: Her accent and her friendliness.

From a sociological or even a moral standpoint, I found it interesting how the sisters' advice evolved over the years, for example on divorce.

Eppy - Ann Landers - died in June 2002. Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips - Abigail Van Buren - started suffering the effects of Alzheimer's, and daughter Jeanne Phillips took over the column fulltime.

One wonders: Will any future advice columnist become a household name the way "Dear Abby" did, or is the genre now passe with the advent of new digital media and social network sites?

Surely the closest talk-radio equivalent - the more judgmental Dr. Laura Schlessinger - never became as big a "star" - or lasted as long - as Abigail Van Buren, Pauline Friedman Phillips.

Posted at 3:34pm on January 17, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 3:45pm

Dear Abby was legendary, and should not be mentioned in the same breath as 'Dr. Laura' who doesn't even do a terrestrial radio show anymore.

What makes another Dear Abby difficult now is the Internet age, where anybody can--and anybody does---post his or her opinion. Rest in peace, Dear Abby.

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 10:03am

Open phone Friday: I'd love to hear from Earl Grey, Mr. Pizza and others why the average citizen needs an assault weapon that fires 100 rounds per minute. Why?

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 10:20am
Thanks for this post Allan.

Teatime: I've talked with several gun nu...ah, enthusiasts this week and all seem to agree on that point. It simply is not needed. Were the NRA to give on that point, it would be a first step to making them appear responsible rather than looking like a group of fanatics.

Mike from Delaware
Fri, Jan 18, 2013 10:30am
Another aspect of Dear Abby, was she did a 5-minute featurette on CBS radio back in the early to mid 60's (may have started earlier, but that's when I heard it). I remember hearing it on the then-CBS radio affiliate WCAU-AM out of Philly (WDEL-AM/FM were NBC radio affiliates at that time).

Another woman of an earlier era who also had a similar type career was Emily Post. I got curious about her, when watching a Three Stooges film and Moe said, "Hey mind your Emily Post". Somehow referring to good manners. I wondered what or who that was. I've provided a link that gives some of her back ground. She too had a national column in the press and her own radio program. She died in 1960. Enjoy.


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