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Landers Mementos Going on the Block

Writings to advice columnist are the most significant auction items, daughter says.

November 18, 2002|John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — For more than four decades, she was a fixture at America's kitchen table, her daily advice column reaching 90 million readers through 1,200 newspapers around the globe.

Now, fans have a chance to acquire a small piece of Ann Landers, who died in June at 83. Personal property and mementos spanning the career of Esther "Eppie" Lederer -- her real name -- will be for sale Sunday at an auction at Butterfields here and via the Internet.

Included will be an archive of Lederer's personal correspondence with Presidents Kennedy, Carter, Reagan and Bush (the first) as well as Hollywood celebrities and international figures.

There are autographed photos, scrapbooks and speeches, as well as paintings and furniture collected by Lederer, the daughter of Russian immigrants who rose to become one of the nation's most influential women of her time.

Also on sale are a George III mahogany tea table valued at $1,000; a Louis XV-style walnut piano, estimated at between $4,000 and $6,000; an early 18th century George I gilt wood mirror ($6,500 to $8,000); and a pair of Chinese carved ivory lanterns ($3,000 to $5,000).

In an essay written for the Butterfields sales catalog, available at www.butterfields.com, Lederer's daughter Margo Howard writes that her mother was really more of a collector of people than objects, which is "borne out by her fascinating trove of correspondence with politicians, celebrities and other luminaries. Even coming from a generation of pre-e-mail letter writers, Mother stands out as one of the last great correspondents of all time."

An auction spokesman said he expects the auction to be popular with professional collectors. But an Ann Landers biographer said Lederer's throng of loyal readers also might find it appealing.

"When you're a national columnist read by 90 million people, day in and day out, there are those who might feel they want a little piece of you, to break a small chip off the rock of the icon," said David Grossvogel, a Cornell University professor who did a computer analysis of 10,000 Lederer columns for a 1986 book titled "Dear Ann Landers: Our Intimate and Changing Dialogue with America's Best-Loved Confidant."

Born Esther Friedman, she married Jules Lederer, founder of the Budget Rent a Car chain. She began writing her column in 1955 at the Chicago Sun-Times, and in 1987 moved to the competing Chicago Tribune. For years, she competed head to head with her twin sister, Pauline Phillips, better known as Abigail Van Buren, author of the Dear Abby column.

Eventually, she became "an important figure in American pop culture history," said Catherine Williamson, Butterfields' director of books, manuscripts and memorabilia. "She brought about a pivotal moment when the advice column went from Miss Lonelyhearts to this real confessional mode of journalism.

"She was a platform for all kinds of medical and political issues," Williamson said. "And on top of that, every day she wrote this incredibly entertaining column."

In the Butterfields warehouse lies an Ann Landers treasure trove, including paintings and period pieces that decorated her 5,500-square-foot co-op along Chicago's fashionable Lake Shore Drive.

But there are also items that speak of Lederer's personal style, including a collection of original cartoon drawings like Johnny Hart's B.C. sketch in which the bird asks the turtle: "What do you get if you cross the Godfather with Ann Landers?" The answer: "Someone who gives you advice you can't refuse."

There's also the IBM Selectric III typewriter on which Lederer composed her columns. Howard said her mother resisted all later forms of technology, such as computers and answering machines, and kept several Selectrics on hand to pillage for parts after the company discontinued the model.

"She was mechanically challenged, a Luddite from the word go," said Howard, a columnist for the online magazine Slate who is writing a book based on letters she received from her mother.

Also available is the typed manuscript with annotations of the early draft of Lederer's book "The Teenager and Sex," in which she broke new ground by offering frank answers to questions on masturbation, penile implants and homosexuality -- topics rarely discussed in her era.

Howard recalls that her mother was a fierce Democrat who advised presidents and other politicians. "Bobby Kennedy came to her when he was considering running for president," Howard recalled. "And she told him straight out: Don't do it. It's not your turn."

Lederer also kept up a running dialogue with then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey about her objections to the Vietnam War. In 1967, Howard recalls, her mother went to South Vietnam to prove to Humphrey that America should get out of the war.

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