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Dear Ann ...
Fans of advice columnist Ann Landers paid nearly $250,000 to snag her desk, a pair of combat boots, antique furniture and letters at an auction Sunday in San Francisco.

Margo Howard, Landers' daughter, said she had no room in her Chicago apartment to store all the treasures her mother collected over the four decades she wrote her advice column, "Because of who she was I thought that people who wanted to have that kind of connection to her should have the chance," Howard said. "She was America's mother, which took me a while to come to terms with. She raised four generations of people."

Landers, whose real name was Esther "Eppie" Lederer, died June 22 at age 83.

Among the items at auction were combat boots, fatigues and a notebook from Lederer's 1967 trip to Vietnam, where she visited soldiers and jotted pages of phone numbers of their loved ones. On her return home she spent nearly four days phoning greetings, Howard recalled.

About the only thing not on the block were the countless bags of letters Lederer received from readers. Those she took great care to destroy to protect identities, said Howard.

Riding high ...
Retired astronaut Sally Ride credits her parents and two high school teachers with encouraging her interest in science.

"In high school, I had two teachers who spent a lot of time with me. But more than that, they encouraged me and gave me confidence," Ride, 51, the first American woman in space, said at the Inland Empire Science Festival in Riverside, Calif.

Ride, who has a doctorate in physics from Stanford University, has her sights on a new mission -- bridging the gender gap in science and technology with her Imaginary Lines Inc. She said the gap in science and math typically starts in sixth grade. "It's not because they're not good at them, but the subjects don't seem cool or relevant," she said. "A 12-year-old girl who wants to be an electrical engineer may get different reactions from her peers, parents and teachers than a 12-year-old boy. At that age, it's not cool for a girl to be the best one in math class."

What a pain ...
George Clooney, 41, said his latest role in Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris" has been his toughest acting job to date. But he's afraid it's his derriere that will get all the attention.

"Fox leaked the story about the MPAA rating on 'Solaris,' how we got an R because I showed my (behind), but I think they're having trouble selling this film," he said in an interview from Los Angeles with Newsday. (The rating was changed to PG-13.)

The film is a remake of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 sci-fi epic but Clooney anticipates that the most-often asked question will be: "So you're naked. Did you work out?"

"I find it funny because we're trying to talk about things on a much grander scale, with a story that contains questions about the cosmos and it'll come down to a 30-second sound bite where I say, "Yeah, I worked out."

Ailing actress ...
Actress Frances Bay, 83, who played Adam Sandler's grandmother in "Happy Gilmore," remains in critical condition in Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center with injuries suffered when she was struck by a car Thursday in Glendale.

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