‘Dear Abby’ visits to Malibu

A master networker, Jeanne Phillips, who continues the column her mother started, relies on her connections with doctors, attorneys, social workers, scientists and experts in just about every field to help her address the social ills that plague not just Americans, but citizens in many other countries.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Women in Film was created 33 years ago by Tichi Wilkerson Kassel, editor-in-chief of the trade journal The Hollywood Reporter, to promote and mentor women in entertainment and media through collaborative effort, expert guidance, relentless endorsement and good-ol’-gal networking.

Friday’s Malibu chapter networking breakfast was addressed by someone who perhaps personifies the WIF philosophy of using “common sense solutions and advice you can trust” to solve problems and win influence-syndicated advice columnist Abby of “Dear Abby” fame. The column, read in dozens of countries around the world, was launched 50 years ago by Pauline Phillips of Sioux City, Iowa and is currently being written by her daughter, Jeanne Phillips. But, “everyone, even my friends, call me Abby,” Jeanne Phillips said.

What kind of people write to “Dear Abby?”

“Well, the person who is smart enough to know he has a problem and needs to do something about it,” Abby said. “After all, they can confide in me and the price is right.”


Diffidence aside, Phillips receives 10,000 letters a week and has a staff well-trained to prioritize the missives and make sure she addresses the most urgent problems.

A master networker, Phillips relies on her connections with doctors, attorneys, social workers, scientists and experts in just about every field to help her address the social ills that plague not just Americans, but citizens in countries spanning China through the Middle East to South America.

“I don’t pretend to have all the answers myself,” Phillips said, “but I’ve got a panel of extraordinary experts to advise me.”

And certain social issues are universal: “The common thread that binds these diverse cultures is our humanity,” she said. “And what I offer my readers is a dialogue, not a monologue.”

Addressing a group of women trying to make it in a mostly male industry, Phillips sees opportunities for women in today’s society expanding, albeit hard-won.

“Often women feel they must live with their poor choices because they have no options,” Phillips said. “Today, I think you can say ‘Stop acting like a victim! There are reasons for everything you do.”

She noted the advancement in technology coming at a price to society in general.

“We have lost an intimacy,” she said. “With the advent of cell phones, textting, the Internet, people are disconnected.”

Phillips recounted an evening at a local restaurant where she saw a young couple sit at a table and spend the entire meal speaking to other people on their cell phones.

“It is fascinating that, with all this ease of instant communication, people seem to be afraid of connecting face to face.”

She sees this trend extending into family life, noting that parents frequently must struggle to make ends meet.

“I’ve received letters from kids saying, ‘I want to talk to my mom, but she just isn’t there,'” she said.

Phillips was almost accidentally groomed to take over her mother’s column when the original Abby asked her then-teenage daughter to answer some letters she had received from other teens.

“My mother said that if they were no good, I would have to just do them over and over until they were right.”

Now, Phillips addresses problems from her readers that were unheard of when she first started writing the column.

“Homosexuality was almost never addressed,” she said, “Now, I get letters asking how to organize same-sex weddings.”

She has literally saved lives by getting on the phone and calling parents or local authorities when it seemed like the writer of a letter is in particular crisis, and she has files thick with grateful acknowledgments from readers.

“When I got a letter from someone who was persuaded to get help because of something I said in a column, I knew that it was a powerful tool” to have a syndicated sounding board, she said. “I wasn’t just shouting down a well.”

Is she ever shocked by letters she receives?

“Oh, absolutely,” Phillips acknowledged.

One of her more memorable examples was a bona fide offer of marriage, accompanied by a photo of the gentleman dressed in a fluffy white wedding gown with his entire manly ardor on display.

Phillips didn’t hesitate answering the question of what does she do if she herself needs advice: “Oh, I go out with my good friends and have a stiff drink.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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