Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine's 64 international editions and one of the world's most popular and influential editors, died August 13, 2012, after a brief hospitalization at the McKeen Pavilion at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia. She was 90.
Widely heralded as a legend, Gurley Brown exerted a profound impact on popular culture and society that reached around the globe, first with her 1962 bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl, and then for more than three decades with her personal imprint on Cosmopolitan, a feat rarely replicated by editors.
"Helen Gurley Brown was an icon. Her formula for honest and straightforward advice about relationships, career and beauty revolutionized the magazine industry," said Frank A. Bennack, Jr., CEO of Hearst Corporation. "She lived every day of her life to the fullest and will always be remembered as the quintessential 'Cosmo girl.' She will be greatly missed."
The philanthropy she established with her husband, David Brown, also left an indelible mark on journalism: In January, Gurley Brown gave $30 million to Columbia and Stanford Universities. The gift created the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation, housed at both Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism and the School of Engineering at Stanford. David Brown, who died in 2010, attended both universities and was a movie producer whose films included Jaws, The Sting and The Verdict.
The woman who redefined womanhood for many coming of age in the early '60s was born in Green Forest, Ark., on February 18, 1922, to Ira and Cleo Gurley, both schoolteachers. The family moved to Little Rock when Ira was elected to the state legislature. He died in an elevator accident when Helen was 10 years old. After trying to support Helen and her older sister, Mary, in Depression-era Arkansas, Cleo Gurley moved them to Los Angeles in the late 1930s. There, Gurley Brown excelled socially and academically, graduating from high school as class valedictorian.
She spent a year at the Texas State College for Women and returned home to put herself through Woodbury Business College. Her mother and sister, who had contracted polio, depended on her financial support for the rest of their lives. In 1941, with her business degree, Gurley Brown took on a series of secretarial jobs. It was her 17th job, at the advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding, that launched her future success. By the late 1950s, she had become the highest-paid female copywriter on the West Coast and one of the few to be listed in Who's Who of American Women.
In 1959, at the age of 37, Gurley Brown married Brown, 43, then a film executive at 20th Century Fox Studios, and later an independent producer. During their marriage, Brown was a partner behind many of his wife's projects, even writing Cosmo cover lines. It was he who persuaded her to write a book about her life as a single woman. The result, Sex and the Single Girl (1962), took the nation-and then the globe-by storm.
On the best-seller lists for more than a year, Sex and the Single Girl has been published in 28 countries and translated into 16 languages. Quick on the heels of her first success, Gurley Brown wrote the 1964 bestseller, Sex and the Office.
Warner Bros. bought the film rights to Sex and the Single Girl for what was then the highest price ever paid for a nonfiction title. The 1964 film starred Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Lauren Bacall and Henry Fonda.
The Browns then worked together to keep Helen in the public eye. They pitched plays, television shows, more books and new magazines for single women. One, a magazine called Femme, attracted the interest of Hearst Magazines. But instead of a new title, Hearst agreed to let her try to revive Cosmopolitan magazine.
In July 1965, Gurley Brown officially became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and launched it into publishing history. She was Cosmo's tireless editor-in-chief, growing the magazine in the 1980s to 300 pages, a third of which were advertisements. Today Cosmopolitan is the top-selling young women's magazine in the world, with 64 international editions. It is published in 35 languages and distributed in more than 100 countries. In 1997, Gurley Brown left the flagship magazine to serve as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan's growing international editions.
She and Brown, who were married for 51 years, were anchors in the New York publishing and Hollywood film communities, as he and partner Richard Zanuck produced some of the era's most memorable movies, among them Cocoon and Driving Miss Daisy.
Named one of the 25 Most Influential Women in the U.S. five times by The World Almanac, Gurley Brown continued to write books, some 11 in all.
For her exemplary contributions to magazine journalism, Gurley Brown was awarded a Matrix Award by New York Women in Communications in 1985. In 1986, Hearst Corporation established a chair at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in her name, the Helen Gurley Brown Research Professorship. She was inducted into the Publisher's Hall of Fame in 1988, taking her place with such publishing originals as Henry Luce, DeWitt Wallace, Harold Ross and Norman Cousins. The Magazine Publishers of America honored Helen Gurley Brown with the 1995 Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the magazine publishing industry's highest honor. Gurley Brown was the first woman recipient. She received the 1996 American Society of Magazine Editors' Hall of Fame Award.
Donations may be made to The Pussycat Foundation, c/o Karen Sanborn, Hearst Corp., 300 W. 57th Street, New York, NY 10019. The Foundation benefits U.S. women entering the workforce while pursuing their careers and creative potential, as well as providing other charitable assistance. A fall memorial will be announced at a later date.
-With appreciation, Hearst Corporation Board of Directors
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 15, 2012