Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown R.I.P.

Author and long time editor of Cosmopolitan Helen Gurley Brown died 13 August 2012 at the age of 90.

Helen Gurley was born on 18 February 1922 in Green Forest, Arkansas. She was still an infant when her father, Ira Gurley, was elected to the Arkansas state legislature and the family moved to Little Rock Sadly, Ira Gurley would die in an elevator accident when Helen Gurley was only ten years old. In 1937, then, Helen Burley's mother moved her family to Los Angeles, California. She attended  John H. Francis Polytechnic High School and graduated valedictorian of her class. Following her graduation, her mother moved the family again, this time to Warm Springs, Georgia. Miss Gurley attended the Texas State College for Women in Denton for one semester, then returned to California to attend  Woodbury Business College in Burbank. She graduated in 1941.

From when she was 18 to when she was 25 she held several secretarial jobs before getting a job at Los Angeles advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding. It was there that she rose from secretary to an advertising copywriter. In 1958 she moved to Kenyon & Eckhardt, an advertising agency based in Hollywood. She would remain with them until 1962. It was in 1959 that she married David Brown, one time editor of Cosmopolitan and then film executive at 20th Century Fox. It was Mr. Brown who encouraged Helen Gurley Brown to write a book on her life as a single woman. The book, Sex and the Single Girl, proved to be a bestseller and a source of controversy. Although relatively tame by today's standards, the book's message that sex was important to women was either welcomed or reviled by reviewers at the time. The book would provide inspiration for the 1964 film of the same name starring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis.

With the success of Sex and the Single Girl Helen Gurley Brown would go onto write a syndicated newspaper column, “Woman Alone." She followed Sex and the Single Girl up with Sex and the Office in 1964, but it did not prove nearly as successful.

It was in 1965 that David Brown and Helen Gurley Brown proposed a new women's magazine to be called Femme to Hearst Magazines. Hearst Magazines in return asked Mrs. Gurley Brown to revive the ailing magazine Cosmopolitan. Originally started in 1886 as a family magazine, it later became a literary magazine. Helen Gurley Brown remade Cosmopolitan in her own image. Not only did she make it a women's magazine, but one which spoke about sex frankly and advised women that they could have it all, "sex, love, and money." This sometimes put Mrs. Gurley Brown at odds with other feminists. Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (which was published  year after Sex and the Single Girl) thought that Cosmopolitan "...embraces the idea that a woman is nothing but a sex object.” Gloria Steinem, who co-founded Ms. magazine, respected Helen Gurley Brown for encouraging women to seek equality with men, but said, "...she’s fooling herself if she thinks her message is a feminist one.” Regardless, Cosmopolitan rebounded admirably. With Helen Gurley Brown as its editor, Cosmopolitan rose to a circulation of about three million.

Unfortunately by the Nineties Cosmopolitan had declined in circulation. As a result Mrs.Gurley Brown was replaced as its editor by Bonnie Fuller in 1997. Despite losing her position as editor of Cosmpolitan, Helen Gurley Brown stayed with Hearst and remained the international editor for all 59 international editions of Cosmopolitan until her death.

In addition to editing Cosmopolitan for literally years, Helen Gurley Brown would also write several more books, including Outrageous Opinions of Helen Gurley Brown (1967), Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook (1969), Sex and the New Single Girl (1970), Having It All (1982), The Late Show: A Semi Wild but Practical Guide for Women Over 50 (1993), The Writer's Rules: The Power of Positive Prose—How to Create It and Get It Published (1998), and I'm Wild Again: Snippets from My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts (2000).

She remained married to her husband, David Brown, until his death in 2010. They were married for 51 years.

There can be no doubt that Helen Gurley Brown changed American society as it was in the early Sixties. She was very much a part of the Sexual Revolution, arguing for sexual freedom for women. At the same time she also argued for equality of women with men. Much of what we take for granted in today's society (the ability to talk about sex frankly, the assumption that women--single and married--enjoy sex and should not be ashamed to do so, the idea that women can compete with men in the workplace) were put forth by Helen Gurley Brown, first in her book Sex and the Single Girl and later in the pages of Cosmopolitan. She was a pioneer, even if she was one often at odds with other feminists. In the end, it can be said that Helen Gurley Brown was her own woman and one who encouraged others to be the same.

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