Sister Confessors From a chauffeured yellow Cadillac convertible in front of the San Francisco Chronicle building last winter stepped a shapely brunette wearing a little black dress by Dior and the scrutable smile of a woman who knows what she wants. Ushered into Sunday Editor Stanleigh Arnold's third-floor office. Mrs. Morton ("Popo") Phillips announced that the paper's advice-to-the-lovelorn column had gone from drab to worse. "Why." she protested prettily, "I know I could do better myself." Editor Arnold suggested that she try, handed his visitor a six-week sheaf of columns by Lovelornist Molly Mayfield.
In less than two hours, Popo Phillips was back with her own replies to more than 70 lonelyheart letters. Their crisply confident style so impressed the editors that she returned the same afternoon to sign a contract to write six columns a week for the Chronicle under the pen name Abigail Van Buren. also landed a ten-year contract with the McNaught Syndicate. As she was leaving the Chronicle, Editor Arnold remarked to Popo Phillips that her witty, worldy replies to the letters reminded him of Ann (Your Problems) Landers, heartthrob star of the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate. "They ought to," rejoined Popo. "She's my twin sister."
Deliberate Satire? Last week as Popo, 38, celebrated her first birthday as Abby Van Buren, she was the fastest rising lonelyheart columnist in the U.S. So quickly has her Dear Abby column caught on that it now appears in some 80 U.S. newspapers, from New York's garter-snapping Daily Mirror (circ. 842,023) to the sobersided Portland Oregonian (181,910), only a dozen fewer syndicate clients than carry sister Ann Landers, whose real name is Mrs. Jules ("Eppie") Lederer. This makes Abby the fourth-ranking U.S. lovelornist, after Dorothy Dix, Mary Haworth and Ann Landers.
Abby's swift climb is the more remarkable because her column often reads like a parody of other lovelornists. In fact, San Franciscans at first thought that Abby even concocted her own letters as a deliberate takeoff. One letter to the Chronicle that is still quoted with glee came from a girl who confessed: "My boy friend took me out on my 21st birthday and wanted to show me a very special good time. I usually don't go in much for drinking, but I had three martinis. During dinner we split a bottle of wine. After dinner we had two brandies. Did I do wrong?" Quipped Abby: "Probably."
Last week Dear Abby related the plight of a woman who complained: "My problem is my husband. He wears false teeth uppers and lowersand he thinks it is real funny to take them out at parties and do a Spanish dance, using them as castanets. Should I keep him away from parties or should I just tell him he isn't funny?" Advised Abby: "Let him have a good time. I think it is hysterical."