In advance of the Arvada Center's production of The Lady With All the Answers, which starts its previews tomorrow night, we started researching the woman the play was based on: Eppie Lederer. Known to the public for 47 years as advice columnist Ann Landers, Lederer was a fascinating lady. And while her advice often offered ways to soothe the drama in readers' lives, her own life was full of controversy and intrigue.
1. She helped popularize the legend that Halloween candy can kill you The myth that evil strangers put poison in Halloween candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters has been around since the '60s, but Ann Landers helped amplify this unfounded fear in a 1995 column entitled "Twisted minds make Halloween a dangerous time." "The world has changed since you and I went trick or treating," Landers wrote. "In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy." Kids everywhere were bummed as their parents carefully checked their candy for harmful objects.
2. She had a troubled relationship with her twin sister, Dear Abby Born Esther Pauline Friedman and Pauline Esther Friedman, the twins were close and also got married to their respective husbands in a joint wedding on their birthdays. But when both went on to write competing newspaper advice columns, their relationship strained. While they were busy offering relationship advice, their own relationship as marked by jealousy and intense competitiveness. They identical twins reportedly reconciled late in life.
3. She promoted the myth that eating rice thrown at weddings can make birds explode The other myth helped popularized by the advice-doling lady is equally bizarre -- and unfounded. In 1988 Landers published a reader's letter detailing the ways birds can be killed instantly by eating the rice traditionally thrown at weddings. Landers advised the concerned bride-to-be to pass the information around to guests, but said that "to state this on the invitation would be in poor taste."
4. Dan Savage bought her old desk The sex advice columnist purchased Lederer's old desk in 2002 for sentimental reasons, as he explains in a column titled "Ann Advises On":
While it's highly ironic that the world's smuttiest advice column will now be written at the same desk where the world's most mainstream (and most popular) advice column was once written, I intended no disrespect in purchasing Ann Landers' desk. I'm not mocking Ann Landers, her column, or her memory -- far from it! This is going to make me sound like a huge softy, but the truth is, I bought Landers' desk for sentimental reasons. I started reading Landers' column shortly after I learned to read, and I continued to read her column until the ones she filed before her death ran out. A lifelong fan, I bought Ann Landers' desk because I wanted to keep it in the advice business.
5. Her daughter had a feud with the writer of Dear Amy for using the Ann Landers name After Lederer's death in 2002, the Chicago Tribune replaced the Ann Landers column with Ask Amy, written by Amy Dickinson. To Lederer's daughter Margo Howard's chagrin, Dickinson started being billed as "the new Ann Landers." Howard responded in an open letter to Amy Dickinson where she explained her outrage:
You allowed people, if not encouraged them, to consider you "the new Ann Landers." Well, you are not the "new" Ann Landers because there is no "new" Ann Landers. It is a copyrighted name and trademark, and what that means is that no one else can use it -- not to write under, and not to promote themselves.
Dickinson responded by telling The New York Times that:
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It is true that my column is replacing the Ann Landers column, but it's a whole new venture. It's the same format, but it's funnier and snappier and might be more fun to read. Without a doubt, it will be more entertaining.
Even years after her death, Ann Landers is still creating controversy.
Catch the play about Lederer's life, The Lady with All the Answers, at the Arvada Center's Black Box Theater. The previews of the play run April 22-24 at 7:30 p.m. for a discounted price of $27, and the play officially opens April 26 and runs through May 22. For more information, call 720-898-7200.