Although I have unbounded admiration for each of them, I am not King Solomon, the American Medical Association or the U.S. Supreme Court. I am not Portia, Cassandra, or the Delphic Oracle even. I have, in brief, no delusions about myself or about my work. Although I do put forward the mild claim to some pride in both.
So wrote Pauline Phillips, a California housewife who became a household name across the nation as the cheeky syndicated columnist Dear Abby. Phillips died on Wednesday in Minneapolis at the age of 94, more than a decade after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. But the witty, tongue-and-cheek advice that made Abigail Van Buren famous is sure to outlive her.
Phillips got her start after she appeared one morning at The San Francisco Chronicle to see the features editor, whom she had unabashedly told over the phone that she could outdo the current advice columnist. He handed her a stack of papers. She composed her own responses to the letters. She got the job.
In her 30-plus years as Dear Abby, Phillips answered inquiries from all types: teenage girls, teenage boys, young women, exasperated mothers-in-law, elderly widows and widowers. Though her replies often contained a trademark bite — and would not all be considered politically correct by today’s standards — they were underscored by a prevailing good humor and sympathy. Below are some of her finest, and funniest, moments:
Dear Abby: I’m 19 years old and not very experienced, but my mother told me to be careful of men with mustaches. Is there any truth in this? Anita
Dear Anita: Yes … and also be careful of men without them.
Dear Abby: I don’t want to appear conceited but I’m forced to admit that I am one guy who has everything. Women are always flocking around me and telling me how good-looking I am and what a marvelous personality I have. I’m beginning to find this pretty annoying and extremely tiring. I just want to live a normal quiet life. How can I dissuade these hopeful females? C.W.
Dear C.W.: Keep talking.
Dear Abby: Do you think a mother should take her 14-year-old son to get a tattoo or do you think he is old enough to go alone? Please answer before Saturday. This is important. Must Know
Dear Must: If the boy is old enough to get a tattoo — he is old enough to go alone. In this case he is neither.
Dear Abby: When I was going with Irwin he gave me a parakeet, which I taught to say “Irwin.” Well, Irwin and I broke up and now I am going with a fellow named Ronnie. When Ronnie comes over, the parakeet keeps on saying, “Irwin, Irwin,” and of course, Ronnie doesn’t like it. What should I do?Beth
Dear Beth: Either teach the parakeet to say “Ronnie,” or give Irwin the bird.
Dear Abby: I’ve been going with a girl for two years and can’t get her to say yes. What should I do? Joe
Dear Joe: What’s the question?
Dear Abby: My husband has always been very close to his mother and she has never cared much for me. I asked my husband if I was drowning and his mother was drowning which one would he save? He said “My mother because I owe her more.” I am so terribly hurt, Abby. What shall I do? Arlene
Dear Arlene: Learn to swim.
Dear Abby: My problem is my husband. He wears false teeth — uppers and lowers — and he thinks it’s real funny to take them out at parties and do a Spanish dance using them as castanets. He thinks he is being the life of the party — but I’m embarrassed to death. Should I keep him away from parties, or should I just tell him that he isn’t funny? Marsha
Dear Marsha: Let him have a good time … I think it’s hysterical.
Dear Abby: My boyfriend took me out for my twenty-first birthday and wanted to show me a very special good time. I usually don’t go in much for drinking, but since it was an occasion to celebrate, I had three Martinis. During the dinner we split a bottle of champagne. After dinner we each had two brandies. Did I do wrong? Blondie
Dear Blondie: Probably.
Dear Abby: I am 44 years old and would like to meet a man my age with no bad habits. Rose
Dear Rose: So would I.
By Alison Griswold, Contributor, Forbes.com