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Celebrating the Single Girl: Helen Gurley Brown

by Legacy Staff

Even as she found success and fame and fortune in the “man’s world” of publishing, Helen Gurley Brown’s life was dedicated to girls.

Did no one ever refer to her as Helen “Girly” Brown?

It seems an irresistible play on names for the Arkansas girl who found her way to Los Angeles and worked her way through a series of “girl” jobs – 17 secretarial positions, according to The New York Times – until she became a highly successful copywriter in full and married an even more successful film producer David Brown , to whom she was married for 50 years, until his death in 2010).

Even as she found success and fame and fortune in the “man’s world” of publishing, Helen Gurley Brown’s life was dedicated to girls:

Sex and the Single Girl, published when she was 40, found its way to 28 countries and to the big screen in a movie starring Natalie Wood.

• Cosmopolitan magazine became her baby in 1965 when, as editor-in-chief, she catered to Cosmo Girls with advice on sex, love and money – a trifecta she swore all women could attain.

• The sexual revolution was in full swing by then and the ultimate role model advocated the same freedom for women as the men enjoyed.

Helen Gurley Brown died Aug. 13, 2012 – just one year ago. The New York Times wrote, “She was 90 – though parts of her were considerably younger.” In 2008, she had been named the 13th most powerful American over 80. The obituary in the Times also said, “By turns celebrated and castigated, Ms. Brown was for decades a highly visible, though barely visible, public presence. A tiny, fragile-looking woman who favored big jewelry, fishnet stockings and minidresses till she was well into her 80s, she was a regular guest at society soirees and appeared often on television. At 5 feet 4, she remained a wraithlike hundred pounds throughout her adult life. That weight, she often said, was five pounds above her ideal.”

Though she was no longer working for Hearst Publications at the time of her death, according to Wikipedia, the company said in a release that Gurley Brown was “a true pioneer for women in journalism—and beyond.” And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “Today New York City lost a pioneer who reshaped not only the entire media industry, but the nation’s culture. She was a role model for the millions of women whose private thoughts, wonders and dreams she addressed so brilliantly in print.”

As Brown will be remembered – and debated – for many of her lasting impacts, writer Jesse Ellison marked the occasion of her death to compile a list of her best, most provocative quotes for The Daily Beast. Here are a few:

“You can have your titular recognition. I’ll take money and power.”

“How could any woman not be a feminist? The girl I’m editing for wants to be known for herself. If that’s not a feminist message, I don’t know what is.”

“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”

“If you’re not a sex object, you’re in trouble.”

“Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.”

“My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.”

“Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”


Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called “Living with Grief.”

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