By: Dave Astor
They came into the world together, they appear in many newspapers together, and they entered the Features Hall of Fame together.
Twin sisters Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren, 83, were inducted into the 15-member hall at the recent American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors convention in Chicago. They are the first noneditors so honored.
The Chicago Tribune-based Landers attended the induction ceremony. Van Buren appeared via video, with her daughter and “Dear Abby” co-writer Jeanne Phillips speaking at the event.
Landers recalled having help from high places to win a 1955 Chicago Sun-Times contest to replace the previous Ann Landers, who had died. After being given 30 test questions, she phoned famous experts from all over the country.
One question concerned whether fallen walnuts belong to the person with the tree or the neighbor whose yard the walnuts land in. “I called my good friend William Douglas of the Supreme Court,” remembered Landers. “He said there’s got to be a precedent to this, like Plessy v. Ferguson or something.” Douglas’ answer? The neighbor could keep the walnuts, as long as they were given away or eaten — not sold.
Landers told the feature editors: “This is a great honor. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.” She added: “I thank God for the energy to do this work. It’s not easy. Sometimes I’m up until 3 or 4 a.m. struggling with the column. But I can’t imagine doing anything else that would give me more pleasure or satisfaction.”
Van Buren said on the video that “no other honor in 45 years has meant as much to me” as the features hall induction. She also quipped: “Since my column is delivered to most of you electronically, why not me, too?”
Phillips added that her mother, from the start of “Dear Abby” in 1956, “recognized that the most palatable advice is seasoned with humor.”
Landers and “Abby” each run in about 1,200 papers via Creators Syndicate and Universal Press Syndicate, respectively.
Hall committee chair Dan Norman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale called Landers and Van Buren “American icons” who “tackle subjects other parts of newspapers wouldn’t tackle for a long time.” He added: “No two people attract more people to our feature sections and have them coming back day after day.”
LEGENDARY CREATOR PRAISED
Herblock, 91, Drew For 70-Plus Years
Herbert Block drew editorial cartoons since the 1920s, but never lost his work ethic.
Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt recalled running a note since late August that Herblock was “on vacation.” When pneumonia delayed the four-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s return to work, he called to ask that the note be changed to say he was “away” — so people wouldn’t think he was slacking off.
Herblock, 91, died Oct. 7 after 55 years at the Post and prior stints at Newspaper Enterprise Association and the old Chicago Daily News, where he began his career 72 years ago.
“He was absolutely brilliant,” said Creators Syndicate President Rick Newcombe. “He was also modest.”
But, said Hiatt, “Underneath this wonderful guy was this very steely critic. He cut through to the real issue or real hypocrisy.”
The liberal cartoonist may be best known for skewering Republicans such as Richard Nixon (and for coining the term “McCarthyism”), but he also slammed Democrats.
“His work reflected the notion that a cartoon ought to make a point before it made a joke,” said Association of American Editorial Cartoonists President Scott Stantis. “Herblock’s work changed the world. How many of today’s cartoonists can say the same?”
Asked who might replace Herblock, Hiatt said that won’t be addressed until “after we grieve.”
COMICS GRAPPLE WITH SEPT. 11
Some ‘Boondocks’ Strips Are Pulled
A number of cartoonists continue to create comics with post-Sept. 11 themes, and some are drawing flak for doing so.
For instance, at least a couple of papers — including Newsday in Melville, N.Y. — pulled episodes of “The Boondocks” (by Aaron McGruder of Universal Press Syndicate) that discussed matters such as past U.S. support for Osama bin Laden when he fought the Soviet Union.
Other strips have been more low-key. “Get Fuzzy” by United Media’s Darby Conley had his human and dog characters give blood; also, the guy wore a Fire Department of New York cap.
And several comics created before Sept. 11, but scheduled to run after that date had to be pulled because they inadvertently contained themes that could seem insensitive after the terrorist attacks.
NSNC PROTESTS PAIR OF FIRINGS
Columnists Were Booted After Sept. 11
The National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) sent letters to the publishers of the Grants Pass, Ore., Daily Courier and Texas City (Texas) Sun protesting the firings of columnists who criticized President Bush’s actions after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The letters, written by NSNC President Peter Rowe on behalf of the NSNC board, stated in part: “Columnists must be free to express controversial and unpopular views. Freedom of the press is not worth defending if it only means the freedom to avoid offending anyone.”
The fired columnists were Dan Guthrie of the Daily Courier and Tom Gutting of the Sun.