Growing up the daughter of Eppie Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, Margo Howard was constantly approached for guidance. "From a young age," she says, "people imagined I would know what to do. I guess I've gotten in the habit. Maybe there is an advice gene."

Michael Kinsley, editor of the online magazine Slate, is sure of it. Two years ago he hired Howard to pen Slate's advice column Dear Prudence. Every week she doles out dos and don'ts much like Landers—but with a sexy edginess her mother eschews. "She is more liberal than I would be," says Landers, 82. "But her advice is quite good."

Dispensing it was never a goal. The only child of Eppie and Jules Lederer, the late founder of Budget Rent-a-Car, Howard was 28, separated and the mother of three (now ages 33 to 37) when her pal Gene Siskel, the late Chicago Tribune film critic, urged the witty college dropout to try writing. Feature articles led to a Tribune column before Howard went freelance in the late '70s, soon after marrying actor Ken Howard, her third husband (they split in '92).

Averse to hard work ("I am without ambition," she boasts), Howard, 60, rejected offers to join the advice ranks for years until Kinsley won her over. And though Prudence is one of Slate's hottest columns, she has no dreams of rivaling her mom. "She's an American icon," says Howard. "I'm just having fun."