Chicago native Margo Howard, the only child of the late advice columnistAnn Landers and herself a longtime advice columnist who started her newspaper career at the Chicago Tribune and the old Chicago Daily News, has penned a very personal memoir, “Eat Drink & Remarry.”
The subtitle of the book says it all: “Confessions of a Serial Wife.” The book is Howard’s humorous take on her journey through life and her experiences being married to four different men.
In a recent phone chat, Howard explained her rationale for writing her third. “I have met girls who are embarrassed or ashamed or feel they have failed that they have been married and divorced.
“That certainly never occurred to me! I don’t think it’s a failure. It was a mistake. I never felt shame or feeling I’d failed. I want other people to look at it that way, too,” said Howard, who stressed she wanted to get across the fact that life provides not just “second chances,” but many more beyond that.
The author, who wrote the “Dear Prudence” advice columnist for Slate for eight years and then a nationally syndicated column under her own name for seven years, has a crisp opinion why some long relationships do work.
“The people in long relationships are usually lucky rather than smart — unless they’re middle-aged when they get together, because then you get smart about what you’re doing. Experience is one of the best teachers, if not thebest teacher,” said Howard with a raspychuckle.
Howard also came to another realization “when I was in the middle of writing this book. … I realized that I was a memoirist. The only things I’ve written, outside of my newspaper writing, have been memoirs. The first one [‘Eppie: The Story of Ann Landers’] was that huge sort of family memoir, sort of ‘Dallas’ for Jews, going back to my grandparents and my parents and my mother’s sister [‘Dear Abby’ advice columnist Abigail Van Buren]. The second book [‘A Life in Letters: Ann Landers’ Letters to Her Only Child’] was my mother’s letters to me.”
That realization gave Howard a boost in the confidence department. “It made me conclude that I wanted to this, because I don’t think too many marital memoirs have been done. I know that my life is a little unsual, and I thought it would be interesting for people to get an honest look into someone else’s life, with some advice woven through it.”
Howard’s marital journey started in Boston in 1960 while she was attending Brandeis University. “Mr. Right No. 1” was fellow Chicagoan John Coleman, the entrepreneur who, as Howard put it, “did deals,” including developing Chicago’s Tremont and Whitehall hotels. That tumultuous, decade-long marriage produced Howard’s three children. Looking for stability but finding boredom instead, Howard next married “Mr. Right No. 2,” a funeral director named Jules Furth. They divorced after a little more than three years. Howard called that her “designer marriage.”
“Mr. Right No. 3” was the actor Ken Howard, whom Margo met while interviewing him when he was in Chicago with a production of “Equus.” Their marriage lasted 14 years, and Margo kept Howard’s name after they divorced. She writes fondly about him and especially how wonderful a stepfather he has been to her three children.
Finally, Howard found “Mr. Right No. 4,” Boston-based cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Ronald Weintraub. Asked why she thinks this fourth marriage has lasted and will continue to do so, Howard said, “In a good way, we’re a case of opposites attract. He is a very serious and intellectual person. He has three Harvard degrees, and I didn’t finish school, having dropped out of Brandeis in my senior year — to marry ‘Mr. Right No. 1′!
“While Ron has lovely humor, I am the entertainment. He tolerates me very well. He handles me very well. I have no illusions about my personality. I am high maintainance. He manages me with a very deft hand.”
Howard also is convinced that meeting a spouse or a significant other in later years is often all about one thing: “Comfort. Just pure comfort. In a marriage or any relationship with two people who love each other, it’s all about being able to be yourself and be comfortable and not have to weigh your words and be careful about what you say. You need to know the other person has your back at all times. It has to be a real partnership as you go to the finish line.”
Unlike people who tend to go after the same kind of personality in all their relationships, Howard married four very different kinds of men. “I never married the same guy twice.”
Of course, any conversation with Howard cannot ignore the fact she was Ann Landers’ only child. By all accounts, even from others who knowHoward, she never was overwhelmed by her mother’s international fame and celebrity status.
Howard believes it’s largely because her mom, Eppie Lederer, didn’t become “Ann Landers” until Howard was 16 years old. She had her key growing-up years with her mom being just a stay-at-home, nurturing parent.
Also, Howard notes that Lederer took over the “Ask Ann Landers” column and turned it into aphenomenon back in 1955, a very different era when it came to celebrity culture.
“You have to realize, she wasn’t a movie star, she was a newspaper lady. Her great fame came when I was a fully, grown-up adult, when I was in college.”
Howard happily recalled something that happened, “when I was 20 or 21. I was down at the paper saying hello and spent some time talking to [Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist] Bill Mauldin. When I left, he told my mother, ‘You know what’s so great? Margo is her own person, she is in no way in your shadow.’
“I do have Eppie’s strong personality,” added Howard, “but it’s my own.”