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Julianna Brion
Julianna Brion

The Original Dear Abby

Julianna Brion
Julianna Brion

Marie Manning wanted to report on crimes. Instead, she did something revolutionary: She invented the advice column.

Marie Manning had all the polish of a young woman fresh out of finishing school. She was rigorously educated in parlor music, embroidery, and the right kind of chitchat. Her name regularly appeared on the social register at Washington, D.C.’s debutante parties. And though the nearly six-foot-tall beanpole was 20 and unmarried, it wasn’t a husband she dreamed of. She wanted to be a journalist.

CRIME DOESN'T PAY

In school, her newshound tendencies nearly got her expelled. While enrolled at one of the city’s most prestigious girls' academies, Manning was caught red-handed smuggling a New York Herald onto campus. The headline, revealing the gruesome details of a dockside prostitute’s murder, betrayed her passion for true crime. Reading the paper was grounds for expulsion, but Manning got lucky and was only slapped with a warning.

Shocking headlines were still on her mind years later during a dinner party. When Manning realized she was seated next to Arthur Brisbane, editor of New York World, she seized the opportunity. At their next meeting, this time in New York, Brisbane invited Manning to work “on space.” If her stories ran, she’d get paid.

It was everything a young reporter could hope for: the license to take a magnifying glass to society and chase the untold story. What she never dreamed, however, was that within a few years, she’d launch the advice column—a phenomenon that would not only become a national obsession, but would live on through the Internet age. As Manning later wrote, “The idea of relief through confession is, of course, old as time.” But relief through confession was only part of the attraction—the column was addictive, providing an unusual blend of comfort, counsel, voyeurism, and schadenfreude. The nation could take solace in the problems, cheer on the advice-giver for dishing out common sense, or simply enjoy the view into a neighbor’s not-so-perfect life. But before Manning could revolutionize the newspaper, she had to prove she had a reporter’s chops. It was 1892, and the glass ceiling loomed low.

The Big Break

Julianna Brion

Manning's editor took advantage of her inexperience from the start. For her first big assignment, he sent her to former president Grover Cleveland’s home to get a speculative quote about war with Spain, hoping a green reporter might succeed where the more experienced had failed. As Manning wrote in her autobiography, the question was “distinctly unsportsmanlike.”

Unsure of what to do at Cleveland’s door, she gave the servant her personal calling card. To her surprise, Cleveland charged out to greet her, “his face alight with a charming smile.” His demeanor changed when he realized that Manning wasn’t the daughter of his former secretary of the treasury, who happened to share the same name. Still, Manning charmed the former president. When she told him that reporters who didn’t bring back the story were fired or sometimes “boiled alive in oil,” compassion won the day. Cleveland not only gave Manning the quote, but also a pencil, when hers surfaced with a broken tip.

Landing a statement from the former president was a stunning achievement, especially for a new reporter. She was immediately offered a position on staff at $30 a week. More importantly, Joseph Pulitzer, the paper’s owner, recognized the feat—he sent Manning $50 in gold as thanks and congratulations for her work.

The Birth of Beatrice Fairfax

In 1898, when Arthur Brisbane was lured away from the faltering World to William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, Manning followed. But Hearst’s city room was no place for a lady. Manning and the paper’s other two female reporters were relegated to a small office called the Hen Coop. From there, they put together the “women’s page,” pondering important questions such as whether women should wear rainy-day skirts, which were, as Manning wrote “(oh, shocking!) four inches from the pavement.” To her immense frustration, she was sent on assignments to ask prominent women pink-and-blue questions about their preferred flowers and where they stood on drinking cocktails. And when she covered murder trials, it was only to give the “women’s angle,” something she never understood.

Not long after Manning started at the Journal, Brisbane burst into her room waving a sheaf of letters addressed to the “People’s Forum.” The Forum was a common newspaper feature at the time, functioning as a public message board. The letters Brisbane carried didn’t quite fit: a deserted wife, with three hungry children, looking for a job; a desperate girl jilted by her lover, contemplating suicide; a woman whose son-in-law would beat her daughter if she refused to give him money. Brisbane thought they belonged on the women’s page. But when Manning suggested creating a new department dedicated to answering just these kinds of queries, Brisbane approved it immediately. He demanded that the Hen Coop come up with a pseudonym for the new feature’s author by the next day. After a few false starts (including Vere de Vere and Biddle), Manning picked Beatrice Fairfax: “Beatrice” from Dante’s guide in The Divine Comedy and “Fairfax” from the county in Virginia where her family owned a “run-down place of sorts.” On July 20, 1898, Manning took on her new role, and Beatrice Fairfax was launched upon a lovelorn and desperate world.

Advice for All

Julianna Brion

"If I had been ten years older," Manning recalled, “I might have hesitated at the Frankensteinian monster I was invoking. But twenty is a fearless age.” Beatrice Fairfax was an instant success. Letters poured into the offices of the New York Journal by the bagful, on the order of 1,400 a day, so many that the post office refused to deliver them. Manning said later that she came to dread the sight of the porters hauling those sacks of human misery down the hall.

The queries ran the gamut: Young men wanted tips on romancing their landladies; widowers wrote Beatrice looking for women to marry them and care for their five children; girls wondered whether smoking cigarettes was ever appropriate. When it wasn’t funny, it was miserable. Victims of spousal abuse, desperate unwed mothers, and jilted lovers all crowded for column inches. Manning’s approach to all: “Dry your eyes, roll up your sleeves, and dig for a practical solution.”

Beatrice Fairfax’s impact on the business was immeasurable: Her column sent the Journal’s circulation numbers roaring past its rivals, and it inspired countless imitators. In 1905, seven years after Beatrice Fairfax was born, Manning left the paper, burned out from years of giving the “women’s angle” and getting little in the way of recognition for her work. Brisbane, she said, was “kindness itself” and invited her to come back soon, but it would be nearly a quarter of a century before she set foot in a newsroom again.

Beatrice Fairfax, meanwhile, lived on, given voice by a succession of female reporters, some better than others. In 1916, she even made the transition to film: Hearst, who was by then dabbling in movies, put up the money to make a series of Beatrice Fairfax films. In the episodes, the intrepid young Fairfax and her reporter friend solved mysteries that came in as letters to the advice column.

In 1929, Manning, now Mrs. Herman Gasch and a mother of two, suddenly found herself broke after the nation’s stock market crash. She appealed to her old boss, Brisbane, and rejoined the staff, adopting the mantle of Beatrice Fairfax once again. Not that anyone knew it—despite the millions of people who read her column in syndication, Manning remained obscured by the pseudonym. This time around, the letters were fewer. “Girls were more sophisticated,” Manning wrote. But they still needed advice. The column remained popular enough that in 1930 Beatrice Fairfax was immortalized in the lyrics of a Gershwin tune, “But Not for Me.”

Manning wrote the column until her death, in 1945, when she suffered a heart attack. Beatrice Fairfax outlived Manning by 20 years. But by then, competitors like Ann Landers and Dear Abby were already carrying the torch. Today, advice columns thrive online, with the Rumpus’s Dear Sugar and Slate.com’s Dear Prudence continuing the tradition. But while the format is the same, the content has shifted. Emily Yoffe, who’s authored the Prudence column for the last six years, has tackled problems Manning never would have dreamed of: homosexual incestuous twins, gassy office mates, a woman who found her mother-in-law breast-feeding her newborn son. “I feel lucky to be doing this,” Yoffe says. “It’s fascinating, it’s fun. What’s not to like?”

It isn’t just the letters that make the column compelling. According to Yoffe, the real key to success “is the columnist having a strong voice,” a quality Marie Manning clearly had in spades. For all the politeness and sense of place her finishing schools attempted to instill in her, Manning was never intimidated by boundaries. From knocking on the president’s door to breaking into the newsroom, she had an incredible knack for making people want to listen. So did Beatrice Fairfax.

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entertainment
13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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