A Life in Letters: Ann Landers' Letters to Her Only Child

A Life in Letters: Ann Landers' Letters to Her Only Child

by Margo Howard

America's most beloved columnist shares 40 years of advice through letters to her only child, published here for the first time. In this witty, wise, and intensely personal collection of letters to her daughter Margo, Ann Landers delivers her own unintentional memoir.


America's most beloved columnist shares 40 years of advice through letters to her only child, published here for the first time. In this witty, wise, and intensely personal collection of letters to her daughter Margo, Ann Landers delivers her own unintentional memoir.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Landers (1918-2002) penned thousands of letters to troubled strangers during her many newspaper years, but in writing to her daughter, the advice columnist's personality comes through with more clarity than was ever evident in her published work. Howard has amassed a staggering collection of Landers's letters, which span 40 years and range widely in subject matter and tone. Several notes refer to the famous feud between Landers and her twin sister, Pauline (aka Dear Abby). There are gossipy moments, as when Landers writes about a socialite who's had a facelift so disastrous she's unrecognizable. Unfortunately for those who like such dish, Howard is disappointingly ethical, concealing names and identifying information. However, this strategy is effective in taking the attention away from the occasional catty jab and focusing more closely on the book's real strength, which is showing Landers as the loving, flawed, sometimes even surprisingly dull person that she was. Beyond the occasional mentions of celebrities or TV appearances, the columnist's letters are simply notes mailed from a mother to a daughter, and anyone who's sent or received similar missives will feel pangs of identification. There's praise and encouragement, shock over allowance squandering during college days and, quite often, a healthy dose of nagging. Some letters are downright yawn inducing, with sentences like, "Daddy and I are planning on coming to Parents' weekend on Friday." While these kinds of entries can be trying, they provide a profile of Landers that will thrill fans of her work and be of interest to letter-writing mothers and daughters everywhere. Agent, Bob Barnett. (Oct. 8) Forecast: A barrage of mediaincluding radio ads, print ads and a Today show appearanceguarantee hefty sales for Howard's book. It should be a popular holiday gift. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.18(h) x 1.23(d)
Age Range:
13 Years

Read an Excerpt


Ann Landers' Letters to Her Only Child

By Margo Howard

Time Warner

Copyright © 2003

Margo Howard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-53271-1


I was fifteen when Mother became Ann Landers. The excitement of a burgeoning
career was still new, so her letters to me at college reveal the exhilaration of
adding client papers, making speeches, and becoming a big-deal newspaperwoman.
People have asked me-for decades-how I felt about my mother suddenly taking on a
demanding, high-profile job. The truth is that it was like a gift from the gods.
Finally, some of her focus was deflected from me. I was never one of those kids
who could later complain I received short shrift in the attention department. On
the contrary, my mother had always zeroed in on me like a laser. Probably
because I was an only child, I was overprotected and the primary object of her
concerns, hopes, and fears. I periodically rebelled ... though in reasonably
ladylike ways. I was considered "sophisticated" even as a high school girl. I
smoked and I drank scotch on the rocks; I was well traveled and a magnet for
men. It was all restrained and decorous enough, however, so that Mother never
felt she had to lower the boom.

It is fair to say that my mother was ambitious for me, in the sense that she
was, in spirit, a stage mother ... without the stage. She wanted me to do well
and to shine. She was similarly supportive of my father and his business
endeavors. He loved to travel, and she never leaned on him to do less of it and
spend more time with her. She was positive and optimistic. And when it came to
me, she had an all-involved and unstinting love. Starting in college, and all
throughout my life, those who knew us best and saw us together would remark that
they'd never seen a mother-daughter relationship as close as ours. That
closeness is the underpinning of the letters that follow.

I went to Brandeis University because it was the school my mother was pushing
for. I do believe that on some subconscious level she thought it would serve as
a belated Sunday school. (The reason I'd had no proper religious education was
that during my grade school years we lived in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a small
town with only thirty-two Jewish families. The best that could be managed was a
sporadic, makeshift Sunday school.) Not to put too fine a point on it, there
weren't that many schools other than Brandeis to choose from. Vassar put me on a
waiting list ... too dicey a proposition to suit me. My "fallback school," the
University of Pennsylvania, didn't even accept me. Sarah Lawrence was the only
other school, besides Brandeis, to accept me on the straightaway. Mother pleaded
with me not to go there; her argument being that given the kind of student I
was, it would not be useful for me to park myself at a school that had no
grades, no majors, and quite a bit of freedom. She was also concerned, given its
location in Bronxville, that I would spend most of my time in Manhattan at Saks
or Bergdorf Goodman. Having waltzed through high school with no discernible
devotion to scholarship, it would be fair to say, quoting that sage, Diane
Keaton, "I went to school as a social occasion."

In the late '50s Brandeis was a school for intellectual heavy-hitters. That
would not have been me, but I suspect my lack of seriousness was counterbalanced
by quite strong board scores, a really good interview with the dean of
admissions, and recommendations from Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
and then-Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.

This is the last paragraph of a letter from Senator Humphrey to Mother, dated
January 24, 1958:

When are you coming to Washington? Tell Margo that I have written a
recommendation for her to Brandeis University. She will not only be permitted to
enter as a result of that recommendation, but most likely become the Dean of
Women or Campus Queen on the day of registration. When Humphrey recommends they
are recommended.

Best wishes,


Hubert H. [hand-signed]

Hubert H. Humphrey

It worked! There was no offer of Deanship, or reign as Campus Queen, but I was
accepted. My academic career can be tracked in the following four years' worth
of letters. Well ... not quite four years ... and not always having to do
with academics. What I now find most interesting is Mother's sliding scale of
supportiveness, acceptance, or motivational browbeating about my various
approaches to school. I was going to graduate; I wasn't going to graduate. Good
grades didn't matter; they did matter.

Mother wanted me to date lots of different people-not choose a special one-but
when such a person periodically appeared she was encouraging. She wanted me to
take advantage of the social possibilities of the Ivy League, but she also
endorsed putting schoolwork first. When it came to my college career, therefore,
she was inconsistent and contradictory ... but these approaches were
indicative of her wish to be supportive. She was, I suspect, more involved with
the social aspects of my college life than other girls' mothers. What I did not
understand, at the time, was that my love life was being quarterbacked by a
world-recognized expert in Chicago.

SEPTEMBER 20, 1958

Dear Margo:

Your letter from Boston was wonderful. Yes, I am saving this "gem" for Daddy. He
will be home tomorrow morning. He couldn't get home on an afternoon flight so he
must fly all night. (His arms will sure be tired. I told him next time to take a

I was struck by the neatness and accuracy of your typing. This made me very
happy, as I am delighted you are a far better typist than your mother. Also,
your phraseology was excellent. I guess it has been a long time since I have
read a letter written by you. The last ones were from the camp days, and you
have really grown up girl!

Nothing new. I am working like a little beaver ... and the house is quiet ...
and clean. Too quiet-and too clean, if you know what I mean. I have already
taken your old leopard flats ... maybe for sentimental reasons. Anyway, they
are comfy!

Bob the doorman asked if you had left ... and when I said yes he expressed
real sorrow at not having had the chance to say goodbye. Marshall [the other
doorman] is still talking about your nice farewell. Miss Margo is a lovely lady
he tells everyone.

Write when you can, doll, and so will I. Fill us in on what's going on. I am
glad you find the roommates congenial. Bravo ... and love,


In the following letter, "Martin" is Marty Peretz, a Brandeis senior when I
arrived as a freshman. The proverbial "Big Man" on Campus, he was editor of the
Justice, the school newspaper, as well as a cause-oriented provocateur. We met
during orientation week (of which he was chairman), dated briefly, and
maintained a lifelong friendship. Himself the prot�g� of Max Lerner, a
syndicated liberal columnist and an author, Marty essentially made me his Eliza
Doolittle, involving me, for the first time, in things intellectual. When I
mentioned in my first book that he'd played a big part in my education, he
responded in the New Republic (which by then he owned and edited) that he could
live without the honor and wanted no credit for my education! This referred to
my social pose as a dumb blonde, a persona that later carried over into some of
my writing. He was one of my friends who, while we were at school, met my mother
and stayed in touch with her over the years.

"Larry" is Larry Fanning, the gifted Sun-Times editor-in-chief for whom Mother
first went to work. He became her close friend and, in effect, her journalism
school. "The Fan," or "Lare Bear" as we called him, polished her innate writing
skills, helped her shape the column, and made her a star.

Drew Pearson was a famous (and famously gruff) syndicated investigative reporter
and muckraker.

Milt Caniff drew the comic strip "Terry and the Pirates."

OCTOBER 20, 1958

Dear Margo:

I am at the paper ... and wanted to get this note off to you today. Your
letter (the long one) was excellent, and showed real thought. I think you are
reasoning things out well. I like particularly the notion that you are NOT
pushed to make any decisions.

Marty's piece on the beat generation was excellent. I asked Larry to read it for
an objective evaluation and he said the boy is brilliant without a doubt. He
also said if he is interested in newspaper work to drop him a line. So, pass it
on for all it's worth-which may be nothing.

I am leaving for Canton and Akron on Thursday ... and will be at the Mayflower
Hotel Thursday night ... Akron ... and Friday and Saturday in Canton, Ohio
at the Soaper.... Last night Drew Pearson called me at home and Daddy
answered. He said "This is Drew Pearson. Is Eppie home?" Daddy said "Of course
it is. This is President Roosevelt!" Some joke. We didn't get to accept Drew's
dinner invitation, as we had to go to a party for Milt Caniff. But it was good
to talk with him on the phone. He wrote a new book called USA Second Rate Power.
Get it. I'LL PAY.... LOVE YOU ... and am proud of your ability to think
things through in a mature and patient way. Also, am very happy that you write
to us so often. This demonstrates real consideration for us which is one of the
great rewards of being a parent. There is no substitute ... and you've got it.



I have no idea, now, of what the "jolt" was, but clearly it was of the
college-girl-calamity variety. And I have no specific recollection of the
professor being sacked, but I was always an enthusiastic acolyte to Marty's
antiauthority actions. He involved me in campus politics, usually opposing the
university president, Abe Sachar; the civil-rights movement; and Sane Nuclear
Policy, which at first I thought was a group honoring Saint Nuclear. (I've had a
lifelong proclivity for hearing things wrong.) Although my mother, pre-column,
was involved in Democratic politics and anti-Joe McCarthy efforts, before
Brandeis I had no real interest in or particular knowledge of public-policy

Hubert Humphrey, from Minnesota, became a family friend when we lived in
Wisconsin and Mother was a player in Democratic politics. They first met when
she was in the Senate gallery listening to him deliver a speech and sent down a
note asking to meet him.



Dear Margo:

I will try to phone you today and see how things are going. I know you will
handle this last jolt well. It is all a part of the learning process ... and I
think you are getting a postgraduate there.

This letter that arrived today, about the anthropology guy being sacked. I am
afraid you are letting Martin open your head and shovel things in ... like a
coal chute. There must be another side to this. That guy is a crusading type,
which is fine. BUT ... I think he likes to be a nonconformist better than
anything else. So long as he has something to be against he seems to be happy.
Don't let this attitude rub off on you. It is nice that he has "taught you to
care." But please be sure you are caring about the right things.

All is well. Tomorrow Hubert comes to Chicago for a man of the year award dinner
... (A Catholic group). He is going to spring himself after the dinner and the
two of us are going to hide out up here for a nice long chat. He said on the
phone yesterday he is not bringing any pals along. He just wants to talk to me
... and I know about what. Last time he asked me if he should let them put his
name up at the convention for V.P. I told him NO ... but he didn't listen, and
the results were disastrous. Now I think he is ready to listen. He is going to
ask what I think about his chances for the top of the ticket. And I think they
are pretty good. It's been a long time since the two of us have had a good
political discussion without a bunch of hanger-oners around. The onlookers
always fill him full of baloney and throw him into a state of megalomania. They
tell him what a genius he is, and as a result, he lets them drag him into all
sorts of losing situations. He can depend on me to give him the straight goods.

Gotta scram. Be well ... Be good ...

love you, kitten,


Red Smith was one of the all-time great sports writers. My grandfather, "Mr.
A.B.," knew him before my mother did.

Mike Di Salle was the Democratic governor of Ohio. Mother took me, as a
pre-teen, to the wedding of one of his daughters, in Columbus, one week early.
Just as I heard things wrong, Mother sometimes read things wrong. More than once
she confused departure dates with flight numbers or times, until her secretaries
started managing those kinds of details and simply told her where she was going,
and when.

"Our Boy" is Hubert.

"Munnecke" is the late Wilbur C. Munnecke, a patrician gentleman of the old
school whom I picked up on a train (the "400") when I was twelve. He became a
family friend, and because he was Marshall Field IV's right-hand man when the
Field family still owned the Sun-Times, he was instrumental in getting Mother
into the contest to replace the previous "Ann Landers," who had died suddenly.

JANUARY 7, 1959

Dear Margo:

I will start on the unpleasant note and wind up in the key of C. Enclosed
material speaks for itself. This is taking advantage and I won't go for it. I'll
sail for one pair of "slippers" but not THREE. So send me a check for $9.90 ...
plus the $10 you owe me. Grand total $19.90. You are welcome.

I have a marvelous letter from Red Smith which I will also send on when Daddy
has seen it. This is in response to my $100 in A.B.'s name ... for the

I'm enjoying the Steve Lawrence record ... which reminds me ... where is
Bobby Short? You got the record for ME and took it along, did you? Please,
gonnif, if it's around here tell me where to look for it.

See where Mike Di Salle came out for Kennedy ... dammit. I had a nice letter
from Our Boy. He said he wrote to you. So-what are you doing for him on campus?
You can't just let it die on the vine now that you've committed. Got any bright
ideas? Hubert is the only liberal in the race ... so if Brandeis is a liberal
school, he should be the front runner, the way I see it.

I'm enclosing something that looks like a thank you from Judy Levin [my best
friend from camp]. Pretty soon she'll be a nice Jewish married lady. I can
hardly believe that many years have rolled around. I can see her now ... in
the cubby ... sitting on your bed!

Munnecke was sorry he missed you. He said you called "at the last minute"
whatever that means. I hope you can catch him next time. I think he feels put
out a little. You can't keep friends and use 'em only when you need something.

Oh ... the telephone credit card number has been changed to 97-M ...
561-3200. Call when you want to, but leave us not abuse the privilege.

Write when you can, and remember the school work comes first.



The Minneapolis-Charley Ward mention is interesting because it is relevant to
Mother's relationship with her twin sister.


Excerpted from A LIFE IN LETTERS
by Margo Howard
Copyright © 2003 by Margo Howard.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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