Among the 11,000 would-be advisers to the lovelorn who applied to take Ann Landers' job after she left the Chicago Sun-Times was sex therapist Carol Wells of Long Beach.
Now the field of applicants is down to seven finalists, and Wells is one of them.
Therapist Wells, 42, who practices in Los Alamitos and invented a board game to teach children about sex, applied for the job of writing daily advice for millions of readers as the newspaper's syndicated columnist. The position opened earlier this year when Eppie Lederer took her "Ann Landers" column to the rival Chicago Tribune. Internationally known Lederer was a housewife when she began writing the column 31 years ago.
To Be Interviewed April 30
"I think it would be an incredible challenge," Wells said. "It's an opportunity to be influential. I think it has tremendous potential for creativity, and I think it could be financially rewarding."
Finalists will be interviewed at the end of April--Wells' interview is April 30--and the winner of the advice column will be announced in mid-May.
Wells said she was notified April 15 that she made the final round. "I felt honored, scared and ready to give it my best.
"It's like a lottery--there were so many people that wanted the job," she said. "When I got in the top 100 my family thought it was phenomenal. They didn't think it would progress to this point, but it did. I never thought about it again once I sent it in."
Wells, who is divorced and has a 16-year-old son, received a master's degree in psychiatric nursing from UCLA and had a post-graduate fellowship in sexual and marital therapy at Johns Hopkins University. She said she designed Humanopoly, a game in which the players are sperms and eggs and the board is a maze representing Fallopian tubes, to teach children "the facts of life."
Wells said her recipe for a successful columnist is: "compassion, a big heart, a sense of humor, the ability to write well and the ability to read between the lines."
"Advice deals with human behavior and human behavior operates on lots of different levels," she said. "It's very complex. Giving advice means understanding human nature . . . helping people decide what's right for them."
Wells included a poem with her application to sum up her qualifications. It read:
Once upon a time I was a housewife.
I signed away the wife, but not the house.
Now I advise others on living life
As well as how to deal with a spouse.
Courtship, parenthood, sex or overeaters,
Questions I can answer from your readers.
She said she wrote the poem because she wanted to let the editors know about her professional skills as well as her experience as a housewife.
"The kinds of questions Ann Landers got 31 years ago were about who to stand next to at a wedding," Wells said. "Today issues are tougher. A person might write in because they are afraid of getting AIDS and want to know if they should remain celibate."
Wells praised Lederer for dispensing expert advice over the years.
"I think she has educated people," Wells said. "I think she has opened and expanded their awareness. People are also less sensitive or embarrassed about seeking professional help."
Wells said she doesn't feel intimidated about the possibility of filling Lederer's shoes. "Ann Landers took awhile to get to know what she was doing and do it well, and I'd have to do the same."
Considers Career a Plus
Her professional background would be a plus in answering questions about current issues, Wells said.
"I think as a therapist there's compassion and understanding of human behavior that is important as an advice columnist. I've found there are some questions that don't have any easy answers. As a therapist I can help people to understand that."
Wells said she hoped her columns would be as clever as the ones Lederer has written and said the major difference would be that she might look at some of the questions at a "deeper level."
"I come from having to spend 10 years with people and reading between the lines," Wells said. "She has certainly read more questions, but she has not spent the amount of time with them to find out what they are really asking."
Wells said that she reads Lederer's column several times a month and that her patients have often talked about advice they read in the column.
Editors at the Sun-Times would not comment on specific applicants but did give a general description of the type of person they are looking for to take over the column.
"I do not like to look at this person as a replacement for Ann Landers," Susan Axelrod, deputy features editor at the Sun-Times, said Tuesday. "We are looking for a new columnist with a more contemporary approach. But, yes, this person will indeed be head-to-head with Ann Landers and Dear Abby."
This is not a contest, Axelrod said. "I would say it's more of a search. It's exactly what the Sun-Times did 31 years ago when Eppie got the job."