Media world pays tribute after legendary Cosmopolitan editor, Helen Gurley Brown, dies at the age of 90
Gurley Brown was author of 1962 bestseller Sex and The Single GirlHailed 'the original Cosmo girl', she was at the helm of the glossy title for 32 years
21:14 GMT, 13 August 2012
Former Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown, has died at the age of 90.
The legendary writer, who was at the helm of the title for 32 years and invited millions of women to join
the sexual revolution, passed away at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
Hearst CEO Frank A Bennack, Jr announced the news of her death this afternoon.
Media icon: Former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, pictured at an event for the title in 1990, passed away in New York today
Sex and the Single Girl, her
grab-bag book of advice, opinion, and anecdote on why being single
shouldn't mean being sexless, made a celebrity of the 40-year-old
advertising copywriter in 1962.
Three years later, she was hired by
Hearst Magazines to turn around the languishing Cosmopolitan and it
became her bully pulpit for the next 32 years.
She said at the outset that her
aim was to tell a reader 'how to get everything out of life – the money,
recognition, success, men, prestige, authority, dignity – whatever she
is looking at through the glass her nose is pressed against.'
On leaving her post in 1997, she said: 'It was a terrific magazine. I would want my legacy to be, “She created something
that helped people.”
'My reader, I always felt, was someone who needed to
come into her own.'
Along the way she added to the
language such terms as 'Cosmo girl' – hip, sexy, vivacious and smart –
and 'mouseburger', which she coined first in describing herself as a
plain and ordinary woman who must work relentlessly to make herself
desirable and successful.
She put big-haired, deep-cleavaged
beauties photographed by Francesco Scavullo on the magazine's cover,
behind teaser titles like 'Nothing Fails Like Sex-cess – Facts About Our
Real Lovemaking Needs.'
Editrice: Gurley Brown during an interview at her office in New York in 1982
Male centerfolds arrived during
the 1970s – actor Burt Reynolds' (modestly) nude pose in 1972 created a
sensation – but departed by the '90s.
Brown and Cosmo were anathema to
militant feminists, who staged a sit-in at her office. One of them, Kate
Millet, said, 'The magazine's reactionary politics were too much to
take, especially the man-hunting part. The entire message seemed to be “Seduce your boss, then marry him.”'
'I've never worked anywhere
without being sexually involved with somebody in the office'
Another early critic was Betty
Friedan, who dismissed the magazine as 'immature teenage-level sexual
fantasy' but later came around and said Brown, 'in her editorship, has
been a rather spirited and gutsy example in the revolution of women.'
Bad Girls Go Everywhere, the
2009 biography of Brown by Jennifer Scanlon, a women's studies
professor, argued that her message of empowerment made Brown a feminist
even if the movement didn't recognize her as such.
There was no disputing that Brown quickly turned a financial turkey into a peacock.
Within four issues, circulation,
which had fallen below the 800,000 readers guaranteed to advertisers,
was on the rise, even with the newsstand price increasing from 35 cents
to 50 and then 60.
Talented: In a turn of events that could have been scripted on Mad Men, Gurley Brown became one of the highest-paid copywriters in the U.S.
Sales grew every year until
peaking at just over 3 million in 1983, then slowly levelled off to 2.5
million at $2.95 a copy, where it was when Brown left in 1997. (She
stayed on as editor in chief of the magazine's foreign editions.)
She was still rail-thin, 5-feet-4
and within a few pounds of 100 in either direction, as she had kept
herself throughout her life with daily exercise and a careful diet.
'You can't be sexual at 60 if
you're fat,' she observed on her 60th birthday.
She also championed
cosmetic surgery, speaking easily of her own nose job, facelifts and
An ugly duckling by her own
account, Gurley Brown was born in Green Forest, Arkansas on February 18, 1922.
Growing up in the Depression, she earned pocket money
by giving other children dance lessons.
Long marriage: Gurley Brown with her husband of 51 years, David, producer of Jaws, The Sting, and Driving Miss Daisy, who she wed in 1959
Her father died when she was 10
and her mother, a teacher, moved the family to Los Angeles, where young
Helen, acne-ridden and otherwise physically unendowed, graduated as
valedictorian of John H Francis Polytechnic High School in 1939.
All the immediate future held was
secretarial work. With typing and shorthand learned at a business
college, she began her career at the William
Morris talent agency in LA, moving on to Music Corporation of America
and Jaffe, before joining the Foote, Cone & Belding advertising
agency as a secretary in the early Sixties.
PAYING TRIBUTE: TWITTER REMEMBERS HELEN GURLEY BROWN
Erica Jong: Don't use men to get what you want in life – – get it for yourself.–My favorite quote from Helen Gurley Brown
Ann Curry: 'Beauty can't amuse you, but brainwork..reading, writing, thinking..can.'-Helen Gurley Brown, once editor of Cosmo, has died at 90.
Lena Dunham: RIP Helen Gurley Brown, you beautiful enigma. Confused but wholehearted love from mouseburgers & feminists everywhere.
Garcia: R.I.P. Helen Gurley Brown: a pioneer and an
inspiration. I have always had great admiration for her.
Cosmopolitan: We're very sad to report
that legendary Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown passed away. She
revolutionized the mag & empowered women worldwide
Cosmopolitan UK: So sad to hear that Helen Gurley Brown, the
original Cosmo girl, has died aged 90. Total legend.
talent for writing was quickly noticed, and, in a turn of events that
could have been scripted on Mad Men, became one of the highest-paid female
copywriters in the U.S.
She also evidently was piling up the experience she put to use later as an author, editor and hostess of a TV chit-chat show.
'I've never worked anywhere
without being sexually involved with somebody in the office,' she told
New York magazine in 1982.
Asked whether that included the boss, she
said, 'Why discriminate against him'
Marriage came when she was 37 to
twice-divorced David Brown, producer of
Jaws, The Sting, and Driving Miss Daisy, in 1959. The couple
would remain together until his death in 2010.
Her husband encouraged Brown to write a book, which she wrote on weekends, and suggested the title, Sex and the Single Girl.
They moved to New York after the
book became one of the top sellers of 1962. Moviemakers bought it for a
then-very-hefty $200,000, not for the nonexistent plot, but for its
Natalie Wood played a character named Helen Gurley
Brown who had no resemblance to the original.
She followed up her success with a long-playing record album, Lessons in Love, and another book, Sex in the Office, in 1965.
That year she and her husband
pitched a women's magazine idea at Hearst, which turned it down, but
hired her to run Cosmopolitan instead.
In 1967 she hosted a TV talk show,
“Outrageous Opinions, syndicated in 19 cities and featuring celebrity
guests willing to be prodded about sex and other risque topics.
She also went on to write five
more books, including Having It All in 1982 and in 1993, at age 71, The
Late Show, which was subtitled: A Semiwild but Practical Survival
Plan for Women Over 50.
'My own philosophy is if you're
not having sex, you're finished. It separates the girls from the old
people,' she told an interviewer.
The Browns were childless by choice, she said.