The Life of Writer Ann Landers

Ann Landers was a famous advice columnist who gained a newspaper readership counting into the millions during her successful career.

Ann was born on July 4, 1918 as Esther Pauline Freidman in Sioux City, Iowa to Russian-Jewish immigrants. Her father owned a successful movie theater business and her mother was a homemaker.

Youth and Personal Life

Growing up, Anne was incredibly close to her identical twin sister, Pauline Phillips, who would also go on to become a revered advice columnist under the pseudonym “Abigail Van Buren.” The two even attended the same college, Morningside College in Sioux City, and on July 2, 1938 had a joint wedding ceremony. Ann married Jules Lederer, who would later found Budget Rent-a-Car, and her sister married a businessman named Morton Phillips. In 1940, Anne and her husband welcomed a daughter named Margo.

Becoming Ann Landers

While living in Chicago, Illinois in the mid-1950s, Landers decided that she wanted to do more than be a traditional homemaker. Noticing an advice column in The Chicago Sun Times, called “Ask Ann Landers” she inquired about helping the columnist out. It turned out that the previous columnist, Ruth Crowley, had died and the paper was looking for a replacement. More than 20 people had applied for the position, but Landers won out, officially taking over her now-famous pen name.

Anne was known for her comedic writing and wisecracking remarks. She quickly developed a large following and her column was soon placed into syndication and raed by a national audience.

The Family Feud

In a strange twist of fate in 1956, Ann found herself competing with her twin sister, Van Buren had started writing her own column, “Dear Abby,” which like “Ask Ann Landers” gained wide critical acclaim. Van Buren hadn’t informed her sister of her new column writing job and a devastated Landers severed all ties with her twin. “I felt betrayed. Because she didn’t tell me that she was considering it, she didn’t tell me — she just presented it as a fact,” she later explained.

The sisters’ dispute lasted for nearly a decade, becoming increasingly bitter as the years passed by, and was heavily covered by the press.

“They became serious competitors,” Henry Ginsburg, Landers’s high school boyfriend, later said of the rivalry. “And it escalated to bounds that nobody expected. Nobody could believe what happened. And the scandal sheets loved it.” On April 7, 1958, LIFE magazine published an article that aired the sisters’ dirty laundry to the world. Featuring the sisters sniping at each other throughout, the piece concluded that theirs was, quote, “the most, feverish female feud since Elizabeth sent Mary Queen of Scots to the chopping block.”

While the twin’s relationship had hit an all time low, their readership reached new heights. The rivalry had a major effect on the publishing industry, if a newspaper in town had Landers, another had to have Van Buren in order to compete.

By 1964, the two had not spoken in nearly seven years. But that summer right before their 25th wedding anniversaries, Landers buried the hatchet once and for all. She called Van Buren and asked if the two couples could take a vacation together. Her sister agreed and the two resolved their issues and decided to move on.

“I thought, ‘This can’t go on forever’,” Landers later remembered. “So, we met in Bermuda, and I remember she came with a fur-trimmed hat, and I said, ‘Honey, we’re not going to Knome, Alaska, we’re going to Bermuda, get rid of the hat. We laughed, we had fun. And then the relationship, it was back to where it was before.”

Lander’s Continued Success

Landers enjoyed continued success with her column, giving advice on everything from marital problems to drug abuse. Her approach to advice giving differed from her sister’s, and while they both had an ear for the one-liner, “Dear Abby” tended to be more light hearted and funny while “Ask Ann Landers” tackled big issues head on with a more detailed response.

Landers also shared her own struggles with her readers in 19756 when she informed readers of her divorce from husband Jules Lederer. Thousands of letters poured in after the announcement, with readers offering their own advice and support to Landers. She would later describe their marriage as “one of the world’s best marriages that didn’t make it to the finish line.”

Her Final Years

In addition to her column, Landers also wrote several books including Ann Landers Talks to Teenagers about Sex in 1964 and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee in 1996. She receved numerous awards for her work and her contributions to metnal health and medical organizations over the years, including the Centers for Disease Control Champion Of Prevention Award in 1996i.

After spending nearly 50 years as a columnist, Ann Landers died of cancer in Chicago, Illinois on June 22, 2002. Today she is credited along with her sister Abigail Van Buren, with helping to transform the standard “lonely hearts” column into a more profound and candid feature, shaping the nation’s changing moral conscience for close to 50 years.