|Helen Gurley Brown, 1964|
A week ago today, Helen Gurley Brown died on August 13, 2012, in New York, at the age of ninety. Wikepedia describes her as an "American author, publisher, and businesswoman...editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine for thirty-two years."
When Brown took over the magazine in1965, it was rapidly declining. When she was replaced as editor-in-chief in 1997, Cosmopolitan ranked sixth at newsstand sales and, for the sixteenth straight year, ranked first in sales at bookstores on college campuses.
Numerous articles about Brown appeared last week, and though I read a lot, I won't try to summarize them. Suffice it to say that among Brown's accomplishments in addition to developing the Cosmo girl image and making the magazine such a success were ten published books as well as winning numerous awards.
Personally, I quit reading Cosmopolitan when I grew old enough that I thought I knew as much about sex as writers of the articles whose lead lines appear in the upper left of each issue's cover--you know, the ones like "How to Please a Man." Bet you thought I was going to say, "When they quit publishing quality fiction." The truth is that prior to Brown, the magazine DID publish fiction, but the fiction disappeared when popularity rose.
|Brown as successful writer of Sex and the Single Girl|
I remember reading that book, but the main thing I remember is that she recommended using Jello as a substitute for candy. Five feet, four inches tall, Helen Gurley Brown kept her weight at about a hundred pounds her entire adult life, and one of her recommendations was to make sugar-free Jello using only half the recommended amount of water. Pour it on a cookie sheet and conjeal. Cut into small squares and use to satisfy that urge for a sweet bite. I tried this way back when. It's a lot like Gummy Bears.
While many young women (and young girls like me who snuck that book to read it) thought Helen Gurley Brown was younger than she was when she wrote Sex and the Single Girl, she was actually forty years old and didn't originate as the slick city woman she had become. Born in Arkansas, she moved to LA at fifteen, to Georgia for a while, back to LA, and then to New York. After working at the William Morris Agency, Music Corp of America and Jaffe talent agency, she went to work for Foote, Cone & Belding where her writing skills were recognized and she was moved to copy writing and became one of the nation's highest paid copy writers of the early sixties.
|The Middle Years|
In her 1982 book Having It All, Helen Gurley Brown wrote, "I never liked the looks of the life that was programmed for me--ordinary, hillbilly, and poor--and I repudiated it from the time I was seven years old." She is credited with numerous quotes, most having to do with sex, money, appearance, and success.
A few of the better-known lines attributed to Helen Gurley Brown:
What you have to do is work with the raw material you have--namely you.
Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.
Nearly every glamorous, wealthy, successful career woman you might envy now started out as some kind of schlepp.
Money. If it does not bring you happiness, it will at least help you be miserable in comfort.
After you're older, two things are more important than any others: health and money.
My success was based not so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.
Her most famous, most quoted line sounds a lot like Mae West:
Good girls go to heaven; bad girls go everywhere.
|Helen Gurley Brown in her eighties|
Her boldness in following her own style is only one of the reasons I admire her enough to write about her.
The females I most admire are those who knew what they wanted, went after it, and succeeded while creating their own styles along the way. Among those women are, in addition to Helen Gurley Brown, Dolly Parton, Liz Taylor, and Tina Turner. Their styles, outrageous; their successes, phenomenal.
I may be wrong, but I don't believe Helen Gurley Brown believed everything she promoted. I think she was a good writer and fine PR person who knew that sex sells and had the talent to sell it.
Rest in Peace, Helen Gurley Brown! You made Cosmo girls out of a lot of mouseburgers.
Please be sure to check here two weeks from now for a very special column from a very special guest writer.
Until we meet again… take care of YOU!