Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer and Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips were born seventeen minutes apart on July 4, 1918. The world has come to know them as agony aunts/advice columnists Ann Landers and Abigail van Buren (Dear Abby). Raised in Sioux City, Iowa, the sisters were in their late thirties before first Esther, then Pauline, entered the advice business.

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Esther, known as “Eppie” Lederer, won a contest to replace the original author of the “Ask Ann Landers” column (Ruth Crowley) for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1955. For 56 years, the Ask Ann Landers syndicated advice column was a regular feature in many newspapers across North America. Due to this popularity, “Ann Landers,” though fictional, became something of a national institution.

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In 2008 she was the subject of a stage play The Lady With All the Answers written by the playwright David Rambo and based on Lederer’s letters and her life story.

The play begins circa 1975, 20 years after Landers’ column was introduced, as she talks about her life and the memorable letters she has received, and ironically wrestles with her own personal problems and the breakup of her marriage.

Julie Briskman as Ann Landers in ACT's "The Lady With All the Answers." Photo by Chris Bennion

Various actresses, including Helena Ruoti, Judith Ivey, Mimi Kennedy, and Julie Briskman (above), have appeared in various productions of the play.

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Helena Routi

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Judth Ivey

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Mimi Kennedy

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When Eppie began writing the Ask Ann Landers column, her sister, Pauline, contributed by reading some of the letters and suggesting answers. The Sun-Times, however, forbade the partnership, and Pauline (known as Popo)  decided to write her own column.

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“Abigail Van Buren” was to become her sister’s chief competitor in the advice column business.

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Pauline’s Dear Abby column was witty, and her views more progressive than those of her sister. She would often respond to a question with a snappy one-liner.

— in response to a reader who complained that a gay couple was moving in across the street and what could he do to improve the neighbourhood?

“You could move.”

Pauline Phillips retired from writing “Dear Abby” in 2000 and died on January 16, 2013, aged 94.

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