Breaking news on this Tuesday afternoon: Natalie Portman, arguably one of the most famous Jewish actresses today, is set to play America’s most famous advice columnists. And yes, those columnists were Jewish.
The columnists who Portman will be portraying were identical twin sisters Esther and Pauline Friedman. The Friedman sisters are known more commonly by their advice column names: Ann Landers (Esther) and Dear Abby (Pauline).
As The Hollywood Reporter reported, “The sisters had a bitter professional rivalry but led personal lives that were equal parts competitive, jealous, successful and loving.” Portman is also set to direct the film.
Esther (“Eppie”) and Pauline (“Popo”) were born in Sioux City, Iowa; their parents were Russian Jewish immigrants Abraham and Rebecca Friedman. Their parents had a huge impact on their lives; Pauline said, “I was cocky. My contemporaries would come to me for advice. I got that from my mother: the ability to listen and to help other people with their problems. I also got Daddy’s sense of humor.” Esther agrees: “My father was the sort of man people came to for advice. My mother couldn’t turn away anyone with a hard-luck story. Our house was always full of guests.”
They both attended Morningside College, and both were married to their husbands in a double-wedding ceremony in July 1939.
In 1955, Esther won a contest to take over the Ask Ann Landers column. In 1956, Pauline started the “Dear Abby” advice column. Drama ensued: “Phillips says that because she applied for the columnist job without notifying her sister first, it created bad feelings between them for many years.” Their advice sometimes clashed, and their columns competed against each other. Their rivalry was very well known. (Our best guess is that this is what the movie is going to focus on.)
The “Dear Abby” column, according to Wikipedia, became the “most widely syndicated newspaper column in the world, syndicated in 1,400 newspapers with 110 million readers.” As Pauline’s obituary in the New York Times reads, “It is difficult to overstate the column’s influence on American culture at midcentury and afterward: in popular parlance, Dear Abby was for decades an affectionate synonym for a trusted, if slightly campy, confidante.”
Portman will be playing these admirable ladies with chutzpah, and we can’t wait.