Heloise Hints: A Family Tradition

Heloise, Great Dames, 48 Hours, Dec. 28, 2000
If you don't read her or if you've never met her, you can now hear her five days a week from her home in San Antonio. Heloise, is the brain behind the program "Hints From Heloise."

She's nothing if not practical, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger. The "Heloise Radio Hour" is her latest method of reaching housewives and a few husbands dispensing her brand of creative common sense advice for all sorts of vexing household problems.

She presides over an empire on stubborn stains, household odors and other everyday challenges.

It's enough to fill a daily column syndicated in 500 newspapers, a column in "Good Housekeeping," books, scores of speeches every year and a website.

"There's no advertising on the site," says Heloise. "It's to provide information. I'm not selling anything."

Because she knows how loyal her fans are, Heloise refuses to endorse products. That way the hints stay as squeaky clean as her kitchen counter.

"If it's in my column, either I've tested it, my staff has tested it, or we've checked experts, manufacturers," she says.

Hints from Heloise has helped homemakers for 44 years. Heloise says her mother started her obsession. She is actually Heloise Jr. Her mother, the original Heloise, got the idea for a column in 1959 as an Air Force wife stationed in Honolulu, with lots of questions and a lot of free time.

"Mother was the first one to admit she didn't know how to keep house," says Heloise. "She admitted in print she didn't know how to clean a toilet. She was like, 'If there was a stain on the carpet or the favorite pot roast recipe, keeping the whites white kind of thing, you'd have to write home to mother.'"

So she realized that the other young wives had the same questions. The elder Heloise convinced the local paper to let her find the answers and publish them in a column. The rest is household history.

"Ten thousand letters come in. I mean to our house," says Heloise. "You're opening letters, you spend your nights watching TV and opening letters."

Forty-four year later, it's pretty much the same story. But now this Heloise, taking a hint from other popular columnists, has a staff to plow through the mail.

"Probably about 90 percent of the questions are the same that have come in over the years. They're spots. They're stains. They're odors," she says.

Heloise stores her hints in a cardfile. She has 60,000 of them on three-by-five cards.

A tried and true method of remembering what worked in her mother's day, 40 years ago, still works today.

She learned a lot growing up with the original Heloise as a mother, such as putting together television dinners with homemade food.

Her mother died in 1977, after the column became a hit.

"She picked out her headstone and she had it all done except for the date of death," says Heloise. "It says 'Heloise. Every housewife's friend – 30 – ' … In the old days, the very last sentence said ' – 30 – The end.'"

But of course it wasn't the end of the column. Heloise made sure her daughter, whose real name is Ponce, would preserve the name and the spirit of the column. And the hints just kept on coming.

"The first two or three years I kept everything status quo," she says. "I wore my hair up in a little bun and wore my granny glasses, because people said, 'You're 26 and single. How can you be Heloise?'"

After three years, she says she made the image her own, because she would be doing it for the rest of her life. And she broadened the subject matters to include subjects about pets and consumer issues.

She's managed to attract new readers — men and women who's mothers or grandmothers read the original column.

"I can be doing this till I'm 80," says Heloise. "I'll be doing this from the moon, giving hints orbiting from the space shuttle."

She plans to be at it a few more decades, passing along tips from her mother — as timely now as they were then.