THE MOTHER OF THE YEAR Award goes to my friend Pamela the famous writer, whose teen-age daughter wrote a novel about a mother who made Joan Crawford look like Harriet Nelson. Instead of doing what any normal mother would do, e.g., me, i.e., burn it, Pamela sent the book to her own agent and to three editors. The Daughter of the Year Award goes to Margo Howard, who has written an altogether loving and charming biography of her mother Eppie Lederer, otherwise known to 65 million American newspaper readers as Ann Landers.
Here, for all of you who, along with me, always have wondered, are answers to burning questions: Abigail Van Buren really is Ann's identical twin (Ann started her columnnal--focused on first); the twins' famous feud lasted 10 years. Ann Landers' divorce from her husband of 36 years, Jules Lederer, who invented Budget Rent-a-Car, was a product of male menopause--he fell for an English nurse half his age. Daughter Margo is thrice married and really did live in a 17-room apartment in Chicago.
Beyond the vital statistics, however, is the engaging saga of Eppie Lederer, an indefatigably energetic woman, who spent more than half her life as a happy housewife and emerged from happy housewifehood rather improbably as a Wisconsin Democratic political leader. Through her friendship with Hubert Humphrey, Eppie conquered Capitol Hill ("What she wanted was to learn, and the way she learned was to listen to people who knew what she wanted to know. Listening was followed by a volley of questions. It sure beat reading"), and then fell into her advice column more or less by chance. ("Mother knew she had a calling; she just didn't know what it was.") Once having fallen into it, Eppie Lederer gave giving advice everything she had, loosing on the American public a breezy writing style, a sharp sense of humor, and the incomparable common sense and sense of values of a "square Jewish girl from Iowa."
Howard writes about her mother with respect but not awe, affection but not adoration; she is particularly moving when she describes her mother's own childhood and when she writes, perhaps too infrequently, about her own children. Eppie/Ann comes off a distinctly decent woman, a woman who, on her return from visiting soldiers in Vietnam, spent four days telephoning the families of wounded men who had asked her to transmit messages, and a woman with a healthy sense of her own power and lack of it: At a White House dinner, reports Howard, her mother told Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to get rid of the MX missile and put the money into child care and school lunch programs. "She wasn't holding her breath waiting for the announcement that the MX was dead. But she had to 'suggest' it anyway, you see, because she believed it to be right."
Occasionally one would like a little more from Howard (particularly about an ,eminence grise in Ann Landers' life); occasionally one would like a little less (particularly armchair psychoanalysis, but then I am a nut about that subject). And particularly one would have liked G.P. Putnam's Sons to have been neater in their printing and proofreading; there is a typo on nearly every page; so many, in fact, that one truly is distracted.
But this is a delightful book, by a writer of wit and talent who should make her mother very proud. And mothers in particular will be relieved to know that Ann Landers was neither a perfect mother (she nagged now and then, was an indifferent cook, and wouldn't let her daughter date non- Jewish boys in college), nor one whose advice always was taken. Named by the World Almanac the "Most Influential Woman in America" in 1978, Eppie/Ann sent the wire-service clipping to her daughter with a note: "Now will you listen to me?"