Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, ‘who created modern woman’, dies aged 90
Before there was Sex and the City there was Sex and the Single Girl. And before there was Carrie Bradshaw there was Helen Gurley Brown.
Carrie, the fun-loving and fashionable sex columnist of the HBO series, was fictional. But such was the influence of Brown, the long-serving Cosmopolitan editor and author of Sex and the Single Girl who has died aged 90, that her admirers reached into pop culture, as well as recent American history, to describe her importance.
“Carrie and her friends couldn’t have lived the lives they did without Helen,” said Bonnie Fuller, the editor who succeeded Brown at Cosmopolitan in 1997. “She was the first woman to say you could have it all – and by that she meant a career and a man and a hot sex life. She was a visionary. She created the modern woman.”
Current Cosmopolitan editor Kate White said Brown’s motto was on a pillow in her office, reading: “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.”
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg called her “a pioneer who reshaped not only the entire media industry, but the nation’s culture”.
He said: “She was a role model for the millions of women whose private thoughts, wonders and dreams she addressed so brilliantly in print.”
Although Brown featured big-haired women with deep cleavage on her covers, she herself was a tiny, almost frail-looking woman.
She spoke freely of her own multiple cosmetic surgery, including a nose job, facelifts and silicone injections.
After school, she went through a long series of secretarial jobs at places such as the Daily News in Los Angeles, and, in 1948, the Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency. There, when finally given a shot at writing ad copy, she began winning prizes and was hired by Kenyon & Eckhardt, which made her the highest-paid woman in advertising on the west coast.
At 37, she married the twice-divorced David Brown, a former Cosmopolitan managing editor-turned-film producer, whose credits would include The Sting and Jaws. He encouraged her to write a book – Sex and the Single Girl.
A movie version of the book ensued and it has been translated into 16 languages and published in 28 countries.
Brown, who started at Cosmopolitan in 1965, said 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”.
Brown championed office sex. “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?”
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