A second-generation feud between the daughters of long-embattled twin advice columnists Ann Landers and Dear Abby heated up Thursday night as Landers' daughter castigated her cousin--who now writes Dear Abby--as a hypocrite for penning a mushy goodbye to her "Dear Aunt Eppie" this week and for criticizing Landers' decision to keep her fatal illness a secret.
Margo Howard, daughter of Eppie Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, who died Saturday in Chicago at age 83, told "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" that, although in the "Dear Eppie" letter Jeanne Phillips quoted her late aunt as having praised her as talented and "doing a wonderful job" with the Abby column, "my mother had told me and her inner circle that she thought the column was quite subpar."
While the letter that ran earlier this week in some newspapers as the "Dear Abby" column showered love and admiration upon Lederer, Howard said she'd heard only last fall that Phillips was bad-mouthing Lederer as "old-fashioned" and telling features editors that she, as Abby, was the future of advice columns.
Beyond that, Howard told CBS, she was highly offended by Phillips' comments in a Wednesday appearance on "Live With Larry King," in which Phillips called Lederer's decision to keep secret her terminal cancer "a tragedy," an ill-advised decision to protect her image. "Despicable and in extremely poor taste," Howard said of the comments.
In a telephone interview Thursday from her Cambridge, Mass., home, Howard pooh-poohed the letter as "self-serving and loopy. They really had no relationship. My mother was very kind to everyone, [but] she thought Jeanne had her limitations." Howard suggested that Phillips' letter, and her Larry King appearance, were ploys on Phillips' part to call attention to herself and to "Dear Abby," now that the Ann Landers column will cease to exist at the end of July. (Creators Syndicate will offer in its place Annie's Mailbox, to be written by two longtime Ann Landers aides, and with Howard's blessing). Phillips' syndicate offered the "Dear Aunt Eppie" letter free to all media, not only to paying "Dear Abby" clients.
Jeanne Phillips would not comment Thursday, but Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes "Dear Abby," said that although Phillips had rejected requests from several national TV shows, including "Today," to discuss her aunt's death, she had committed to Larry King before Lederer died and could not control the show's content or questions.
Not so, said Howard, who accused Phillips of "flogging her grief at my mother's death" in her own interests and of being "beneath contempt" for making "publicity grabs."
Howard said it is her intent to stop this second-generation feud before it goes further but feels obligated to respond "until Jeanne decides to shut up." She also suggested on her CBS appearance that Phillips "cease and desist with any more appearances or written material having to do with my mother, because anything further from her could take her to places I don't think she wants to go."
In her interview with The Times, Howard said her response is intended to stop the bickering. If Phillips does carry on, Howard observed, "she is more of a fool than I thought."
Stay tuned. Phillips told Larry King that her July 4 "Dear Abby" column will be a birthday greeting to her mother and her late aunt, who were born in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 4, 1918. Universal Press Syndicate confirmed that the column would run--with an addendum explaining that it was written before Lederer's death.