From Sex And The Single Girl to editor of one of the best known magazines of the ´80s
Helen Gurley Brown was hired by publisher Hearst to revive Cosmopolitan magazine after the success of her book Sex And The Single Girl in 1962 – subsequently published in 28 countries and translated into 16 languages.
The magazine became famous for its open-minded and sometimes controversial views on sex under her leadership where she was editor for 32 years. She once said her vision for the magazine was to inform women how to get everything out of life – money, recognition, success, men, prestige, authority and dignity – whatever she is looking at through the glass her nose is pressed against.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg described her as a pioneer who reshaped the nation’s culture.
Brown was born in Arkansas in February 1922, later moving to Los Angeles. She worked as a secretary in an advertising agency before moving on to write copy and becoming one of the highest paid advertising executives in the country.
She married former Cosmo managing editor and film director David Brown who encouraged her to write books and wrote a further five after the success of Sex And The Single Girl.
Cosmo’s mission, set out by Helen Gurley Brown in her first editorial, “Step Into My Parlor”, in June 1965, was to appeal to the “grown-up girl, interested in whatever can give you a richer, more exciting, fun-filled, friend-filled, man-loved kind of life!”
Her message was a strange mixture of servitude and empowerment. Men, she taught, are there to be trapped and kept by being made to feel wonderful and given sex whenever and however they want it. But women should also be independent, with successful careers, earning money and, above all, enjoying sex. “Sex is wonderful and to be a sex object is fabulous,” she proclaimed.
In Helen Gurley Brown’s world, men, love, work, achievement and fun all had to be pursued as if by an athlete in training: “My message is, there is no let-up, ever.” Her editors were given strict injunctions that there should be “no glums, no dour feminist anger, no motherhood”.
Cosmo was the first mainstream women’s magazine to feature a nude male centrefold — of Burt Reynolds, in 1972. A typical edition from the 1960s featured articles on “Why plain Janes get ahead”; “Sexy secrets your mother never dared tell you”; “What men and women do wrong in bed”; “Get a high jump in your job”; and “Losing those last five pounds”. It frequently contained useful tips on modern etiquette from the editor: “When people ask how many partners you have had,” she advised, “the correct answer is always three.”
Mrs. Gurley Brown stepped down as the editor of the American version of the magazine in 1997 but remained as editor of the 64 international editions until her death.