Dear Ann

An energetic self-promotor, Eppie Lederer was a natural as the wise and wisecracking Ann Landers, advice maven to millions. But her own family problems were harder to solve.

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Eppie and her husband, Jules Lederer, arrived in town in 1954 and moved into an apartment at 1000 Lake Shore Drive. She started writing her column for the Chicago Sun-Times a year later, when she was 37, and by 1971, “Ann Landers” was a success. Eppie wanted an apartment that reflected her growing glory. So when she heard that a place was for sale at 209 East Lake Shore Drive, one of the city’s most exclusive buildings on its most exclusive block, she hurried over to see it. The 14-room, 5,500-square-foot co-op, designed by Benjamin Marshall, the architect of the Drake Tower Apartments, had large public rooms with unobstructed lake views and featured an entrance hall so huge that Jules referred to it as “the bowling alley.” There were three maid’s rooms, a separate maid’s dining room, a flower room, a phone room, and a linen room. This was an apartment built for the rich. Jules didn’t want it, but that day, Eppie put in a bid of $250,000 and got it.

Eventually, she gave up on going to the office and did most of her work at home. Her assistants had offices at the newspaper, and her driver-Jules had decreed that Eppie, who had no sense of direction, should never be allowed behind the wheel of a car-came from the paper with letters, which Eppie often read in the bathtub; she would send him back with the columns that she wrote on an IBM Selectric. (A fax machine was as high tech as Eppie ever got; she never used a computer or a cell phone.) En route anywhere, she perused readers’ letters in the back seat of the Cadillac limousine, license plate AL 1955, marking the year she began to write the column. “She worked like a dog,” recalls her upstairs neighbor, Cindy Pritzker. She kept about six weeks ahead of deadline, and she never missed a column. When she traveled, she took letters with her. No matter where in the world she was, a Federal Express package was not far behind.

She preferred to work from 11 p.m. or midnight until 3:30 or 4 in the morning. She would focus on the column, but also on organizing her life, lining up schedules, and, after her divorce in 1975, calling and sometimes waking her latest escort to check on a meeting time. In the morning, she would seldom wake before 11. A neighbor, Joan Hall, cherishes a pile of notes from Eppie-affectionate, full of detail-and Hall is not the only one. If Eppie had been to a party or a lunch, or if someone had done something nice for her, she would write a note and her driver would deliver it the next day. She would often call another night owl, Father Theodore Hesburgh, her friend since the mid-1950s and now president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame. Sometimes she seemed to be desperate for conversation.

Adele Simmons, who had known Eppie as a child and who became reacquainted with her when she returned to Chicago to head the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, marveled at how Eppie always remembered what the Simmons children had last been up to-she would ask about each by name. Her secret was that she would make notes on her casual conversations, file them at home, then study them when she knew she might meet that person again. One friend calls it “almost an obsession.” But it worked. Richard J. Klarchek, the head of Capital First Realty, a Chicago real estate management and development company, escorted her to Gridiron dinners in Washington and watched her in amazement as she conversed with the nation’s top journalists, business leaders, and government officials. “Absolute instant recall,” he says. “People came walking up to her, one after another, and just bam, bam, bam. Knew their names. Introduced them, bam, bam, constantly.”

Eppie loved her apartment, which she had had partially renovated at the time she and Jules had moved in, and she was thrilled when Cardinal Bernardin told her that it was the nicest apartment he had ever been in. The place was brimming with antiques, reproductions, middling art, and knickknacks, although the most valuable object was always Eppie herself-expensively dressed, bejeweled, and accessorized. She didn’t have much of an eye for art or fine furniture, but she had just enough so that the public rooms-the living room, dining room, and library-looked grand. As the decades passed, however, the rest of the apartment became dated, dark, and, finally, seedy.

 

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