Saturday Jan 9, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Dear Abby

On this Day:

In 1956, Abigail Van Buren’s [Pauline Phillips] “Dear Abby” advice column 1st appeared in newspapers.

Dear Abby is an American advice column founded in 1956 by Pauline Phillips under the pen name “Abigail Van Buren” and carried on today by her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, who now owns the legal rights to the pen name.

According to Pauline Phillips, she came up with the pen name Abigail Van Buren by combining the name of Biblical figure Abigail in the Book of Samuel, with the last name of former US president Martin Van Buren.

The column was syndicated by the McNaught Syndicate from 1956 until 1966, when it moved to Universal Press Syndicate. Dear Abby’s current syndication company claims the column is “well-known for sound, compassionate advice, delivered with the straightforward style of a good friend.”

As of 1987, over 1,200 newspapers ran the column.

Abby was born Pauline Esther Friedman, and her twin sister was born Esther Pauline Friedman. Abby was known as Popo, and her sister was Eppie (a nickname from E.P.).

Pauline Phillips started her Dear Abby column a few months after her twin sister, Eppie Lederer, took over the Ask Ann Landers column created by Chicago Sun-Times advice columnist Ruth Crowley in 1943. Lederer wrote the column until 2002. This produced a rivalry and lengthy estrangement between the two sisters.

Dear Abby, which has a readership estimated at 110 million and which The New York Times described as “a staple in American households for decades,” has been (latterly) accused of being out of step with changing times (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Dear Abby: I have always wanted to have my family history traced, but I can’t afford to spend a lot of money to do it. Have you any suggestions?

Response.: Yes. Run for a public office.

Second, a Song:

For our song, we return to our much loved John Prine.

Prime Prine is a compilation album by American folk singer John Prine, released in 1976. It concluded Prine’s run with Atlantic Records. No one associated with Prine had anything to do with the release, with the singer telling Goldmine in 1992, “A friend of ours in the art department called us one night and snuck us into the place…so we could at least look at the cover before it came out” (per Wikipedia).

Prine’s song about an assortment of miserable people who write letters to the renowned advice columnist was recorded during a live gig at New York’s State University after a studio session didn’t pan out. Prine explained in an interview with Performing Songwriter: “The studio version of that was cut with a band, and it was real stiff and humorless. We cut it once, live, and that was it. That was the power of the song, in the way people would turn their heads the minute I’d get to the first verse, the first chords. That was the reason we used the live version.”

Prine found inspiration when he happened upon a “Dear Abby” column while on a trip to Rome, Italy. He said:

“I was in Europe and my first wife and I stopped in Rome for the day. I wanted a newspaper and all they had was the International Herald Tribune which is all the tragic news in the world crammed into six pages with no sports results and no comics. And yet here’s ‘Dear Abby.’ She was the only relief in the whole paper. and that’s where I wrote most of the song – in Rome, Italy that is.”

“Years later somebody took the verse about the guy whose stomach makes noises, wrote it just out of kilter enough so it didn’t rhyme, and sent it to ‘Dear Abby.’ And she answered it in her column. She suggested that he seek professional help. She got loads of letters from people who knew the song and told her she’d been had” (per

Here is John Prine performing Dear Abby live in 2012.  I hope you like it!


Thought for the Day:

“If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.” – Pauline Phillips

Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

Leave a Reply