Skyline columnist Ann Gerber made career of ‘true gossip’

Ann Gerber

Ann Gerber

Ann Gerber, a genuine Chicago original whose deliciously catty column was a guilty pleasure for readers of Skyline and other local newspapers for more than 65 years, prided herself on printing what she called “true gossip.”

Inside Publications publisher Ron Roenigk said Gerber died Tuesday at her home. Reports of Gerber’s age varied, but Roenigk said she was in her 90s.

Health problems related to Parkinson’s disease and sciatica prompted Gerber to cease writing her column last December. Roenigk said she had been working with writer Felicia Dechter on a book, which may be published soon.

“Ann was an icon in this town,” said Roenigk, whose company acquired Skyline in 2012. “There was very little anyone could do to match her knowledge, background and expertise. For years [our company] tried to compete against her and always looked at her as impossible to beat. So to be able to say that she was associated with us was quite an honor. I felt lucky to work with her for the years I did.”

Gerber, who attended Senn High School, Wright Junior College, Northwestern University and Mundelein College, began her career at age 16 with the Lerner Newspapers, then a thriving chain of community newspapers on Chicago’s Near North, North and Northwest Sides. She went on to become a fixture on Chicago’s society and celebrity circuit and one of the longest running newspaper columnists in the country.

Her weekly roundup of catty comments, juicy gossip, blind items, and news about movers and shakers became most closely associated with Skyline, serving the Gold Coast and Near North Side. Except for a brief stint at the Sun-Times in the 1980s, Skyline was her home paper under a variety of owners since 1960.

Her tenure at the Sun-Times was cut short in 1989 after she ran a blind item about Oprah Winfrey and Stedman Graham that left few readers guessing — and Oprah fuming. "They fired me for printing gossip, which is exactly what they hired me for — printing gossip," Gerber later recalled.

That infamous misstep aside, Gerber was supremely devoted to her craft and took strong positions in support of charities and social causes she championed.

"I don't try to judge people, and I'm not out to destroy anyone," she told Michigan Avenue magazine in 2012. "I would never want to disrupt a family, marriage or anyone's job. . . . Everyone has a story — whether it's remarkable, boring, sweet, sad, sexy, embarrassing, or historical."

In 2013 Gerber received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Journalists Association. “I realize the fact that I’m a gossip columnist, which makes me suspect and certainly not as desirable as people who do hard news, but gossip is just an extension of people’s talk,” Gerber said at the time. “Gossip is news. Besides, I print true gossip.”

Roenigk said Gerber recently hosted a 100th birthday party for her husband, Bernard Kaplan, who survives her. The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary last April.