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Brown, Helen Gurley

Helen Gurley Brown

Born: February 18, 1922
Green Forest, Arkansas

American editor and author

American author and editor Helen Gurley Brown first achieved fame for her best-selling book Sex and the Single Girl. After becoming editor of Cosmopolitan, she transformed it into a top-selling magazine for young women in more than twenty-seven different countries.

Early years

Helen Gurley Brown was born in Green Forest, Arkansas, on February 18, 1922. The family lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, until her father, Ira M. Gurley, a schoolteacher, was killed in an elevator accident when Helen was ten years old. Her mother, Cleo Gurley, was left to raise their two daughters. (Helen's sister was partially paralyzed from polio, a disease that affects the spine.) "I never liked the looks of the life that was programmed for meordinary, hillbilly, and poor," Brown wrote later.

After Brown's father died, the family moved to Los Angeles, California. In high school, Brown set about working harder than anyone else, wrote for school publications, and wound up finishing at the top of her class. She attended Texas State College for Women from 1939 to 1941 before returning to Los Angeles, where she attended Woodbury Business College. She also took a job at Los Angeles radio station KHJ, answering fan mail for six dollars a week to help support her mother and sister.

In the workforce

Brown worked at eighteen different secretarial jobs between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. From 1942 to 1945 she worked at Music Corporation of America, a Beverly Hills talent agency. In later years she would recall how secretaries were required to use the back stairs because the fancy lobby staircase was only for the use of clients and male executives of the company.

A major career move for Brown occurred in 1948, when she became the first woman to hold a copywriter position at Foote, Cone & Belding, a Los Angeles advertising agency. Her ability to write bright, noticeable copy won her two Francis Holmes Advertising Copywriters awards during her years at the firm. She went on to work for Kenyon & Eckhardt, a Hollywood advertising agency, as an account executive and copywriter from 1958 to 1962.

In 1959, at the age of thirty-seven, Helen Gurley married David Brown, then vice president of production at the 20th Century Fox movie studio. In later years Brown co-produced films such as Jaws, Cocoon, and The Sting. The couple had no children. Brown once remarked that one secret of the success of their marriage was that her husband never interrupted her on Saturdays and Sundays when she was working upstairs in her office.

Brown's first book, Sex and the Single Girl (1962), became a national best-seller and changed single women's attitudes toward their own lives. At a time when Reader's Digest and The Ladies Home Journal still insisted that a "nice" girl had only two choices, "she can marry him or she can say no," Brown openly proclaimed that sex was an important part of a single woman's life. According to Brown, "The single girl is the new glamour girl." She also told her own story, describing herself as a "mouseburger" who, through patience, planning, and never giving up, advanced in her chosen field and then married the man of her dreams.

Magazine success

In 1965 Brown was hired as editor in chief of a failing general interest magazine called Cosmopolitan. She revised the magazine's cover image, creating a carefree, sexy Cosmo girl. "A million times a year I defend my covers," Brown admitted. "I like skin, I like pretty. I don't want to photograph the girl next door." The magazine, like its editor, was filled with advice on how to move ahead in a career, meet men, lose weight, and be a good sexual partner. There was no time for the negative. "I wasn't allowed to write critical reviews," movie critic Liz Smith confessed. The new Cosmopolitan often created controversy (dispute), especially when it published a nude centerfold of actor Burt Reynolds in 1972. By 1990 Cosmopolitan had grown from sales of eight hundred thousand copies per issue in the United States to more than 2.5 million. It was one of the most widely read women's magazines in the world, and became the sixth best-selling newsstand magazine in any category.

Brown's advice changed little over the years, both in the magazine and the books she occasionally published on topics similar to those discussed in the magazine. She still refused to print four-letter words but described sexual acts in great detail. "I am still preoccupied with sex," she confessed. "If you want to enchant a man and eventually marry him, you are good to him, easy with him, adorable to be around." During a Fortune magazine interview in October 1996, Brown shared several of her rules for being a good executive. Her guidelines included paying a compliment before criticizing someone, saying "no" to time wasters, doing what you dread first, and working harder than anybody else.

In addition to the Francis Holmes Achievement awards, Brown received several awards for journalism, including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Southern California in 1971; an award for editorial leadership from the American Newspaper Woman's Club of Washington, D.C., in 1972; and the Distinguished Achievement Award in Journalism from Stanford University in 1977. In 1985 she received the New York Women in Communications Matrix award. She has been referred to as a "living landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Helen Gurley Brown Research professorship was established in her name at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1986. She was named to the Publisher's Hall of Fame in 1988.

Advice continues

In January 1996, after thirty-two years, Helen Gurley Brown was replaced as editor in chief of Cosmopolitan by Bonnie Fuller, founding editor of Marie Claire magazine. "She [Fuller] thoroughly understands the Cosmo girl, and her success certainly prepared her to succeed to the editorship of Cosmopolitan, " said Brown. She was given the position of editor in chief of Cosmopolitan's international publishing program. In 2000 Brown's eighth book I'm Wild Again: Snippets from My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts was published. Filled with stories, the book revealed information on her face lifts, staying thin, and how to keep a man and succeed in a career.

For More Information

Brown, Helen Gurley. I'm Wild Again: Snippets from My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Falkof, Lucille. Helen Gurley Brown: The Queen of Cosmopolitan. Ada, OK: Garrett Educational Corp., 1992.

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Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown

American author and editor Helen Gurley Brown (born 1922) first achieved fame for her book Sex and the Single Girl, an immediate best-seller. After Gurley Brown became editor of the faltering Cosmopolitan, she transformed it into a sexy, upbeat top-selling magazine for young women in over 27 different countries.

Helen Gurley Brown was born in Green Forest, Arkansas, on February 18, 1922, and lived in Little Rock, Arkansas until her father, Ira M. Gurley, a schoolteacher, was killed in an elevator accident. Gurley Brown's mother, Cleo (nee Sisco), was left to raise their two daughters. (Helen's sister was partially paralyzed from polio.) "I never liked the looks of the life that was programmed for me—ordinary, hillbilly, and poor," Gurley Brown wrote later, "and I repudiated it from the time I was seven years old." She attended Texas State College for Women (1939-1941), Woodbury College (1942) and received her LL.D from Woodbury University in 1987.

Gurley Brown's first job was with radio station KHJ where she answered fan mail for six dollars per week. From 1942-1945 she worked as an executive secretary at Music Corp. of America, a Beverly Hills talent agency. Once, while reminiscing about her early career days, Gurley Brown recalled how secretaries were required to use the back stairs because the ornate lobby staircase was only for clients and/or male executives.

A major career move for Gurley Brown occurred in 1948 when she became the first woman to hold a copywriter position at Foote, Cone & Belding, a Los Angeles advertising agency. Her ability to produce bright, arresting prose won her two Francis Holmes Advertising Copywriters awards during her tenure at the firm (1948-1958).

She worked for Kenyon & Eckhardt, a Hollywood advertising agency as an account executive and copywriter from 1958-1962.

In 1959, at the age of 37, Helen Gurley married David Brown, then vice president for production at 20th Century Fox. (In later years Brown co-produced Jaws, Cocoon, and The Sting.) The couple had no children. Gurley Brown once remarked that one secret of their marital success was that her husband never interrupted her on Saturdays and Sundays when she was working upstairs in her office.

Gurley Brown's first book, Sex and the Single Girl (1962) revolutionized single women's attitudes towards their own lifestyle. The book became a national best-seller. At a time when Reader's Digest and The Ladies Home Journal still insisted that a "nice" girl had only two choices, "she can marry him or she can say no," Gurley Brown openly proclaimed that sex was an important part of a single woman's lifestyle. According to Gurley Brown, "The single girl is the new glamour girl." For emphasis, Gurley Brown recounted her own story, the saga of a self-proclaimed "mouseburger," who through persistence, patience, and planning, advanced in her chosen field and then married the man of her dreams.

In 1965, Gurley Brown was hired as editor-in-chief of Hearst Corp.'s faltering general interest magazine Cosmopolitan. She revised the magazine's cover image, creating a devil-may-care, sexy Cosmo girl. "A million times a year I defend my covers," Gurley Brown admitted. "I like skin, I like pretty. I don't want to photograph the girl next door." The new Cosmopolitan often provoked controversy, especially when it published a nude male centerfold of actor Burt Reynolds in 1972.

Relentlessly upbeat, the magazine, like its editor, was filled with advice on how to move ahead in a career, meet men, lose weight, and be an imaginative sexual partner. There was no time for the negative. "I wasn't allowed to write critical reviews," movie critic Liz Smith confessed.

By 1990, Cosmopolitan had grown from a circulation of 800,000 in the United States to over 2.5 million. Hearst Corp. claimed that with its 27 international editions Cosmopolitan was now one of the most widely read women's magazines in the world and had become the sixth best-selling newsstand magazine in any category.

In the 20 years between publication of Sex and the Single Girl and Having It All (1982), Gurley Brown's advice changed little. She still refused to print four letter words but graphically described techniques for oral stimulation. "I am still preoccupied with sex," she confessed. "If you want to enchant a man and eventually marry him, you are good to him, easy with him, adorable to be around."

During a Fortune magazine interview in Oct. of 1996, Gurley Brown shared several of her rules for being a good executive. "These are my rules, written with some incredulity about being one [an executive] and with probably not enough modesty," she stated. Her guidelines included saying something complimentary before criticizing, saying "no" to time wasters, doing what you dread first, and working harder than anybody else.

In addition to her Francis Holmes Achievement awards (1956-59), Gurley Brown received several awards for journalism, including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Southern California in 1971, an award for editorial leadership from the American Newspaper Woman's Club of Washington, D.C., in 1972, and the Distinguished Achievement Award in Journalism from Stanford University in 1977. In 1985 she received the New York Women in Communications matrix award. She has been dedicated as a "living landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Helen Gurley Brown Research professorship was established in her name at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1986. She was inducted into the Publisher's Hall of Fame in 1988.

In January, 1996, Bonnie Fuller, founding editor of Hearst Corp.'s magazine Marie Claire, was named Gurley Brown's successor and new editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan. "She [Fuller] thoroughly understands the Cosmo girl, and her success … certainly prepared her to succeed to the editorship of Cosmopolitan," said Gurley Brown. Fuller served an eighteen-month internship under Gurley Brown while Gurley Brown continued as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan's international publishing program.

Further Reading

The best glimpse of Helen Gurley Brown is provided through her own books. In addition to Sex and the Single Girl (1962), Gurley Brown authored Sex and the Office (1965), Outrageous Opinions (1967), Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook (1969), Sex and the New Single Girl (1970), Cosmopolitan's Love Book, A Guide to Ecstasy in Bed (1978), and Having It All (1982). See also "What the Women's Movement Means to Me" in Ms. (July 1985). □

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Brown, Helen Gurley

Helen Gurley Brown, 1922–2012, American writer and editor, b. Green Forest, Ark. A child of poverty, she became a successful advertising copywriter and wrote the best-selling Sex and the Single Girl (1962), a young woman's primer on matters sexual and financial; its sequel Sex and the New Single Girl appeared in 1970. From 1965 to 1997 she was editor of Cosmopolitan, reviving the faltering magazine by directing it toward single young career women. Under her guidance the magazine charted the accomplishments and aspirations of these women in both their public and private lives. She is widely considered the first editor to provide open discussions of sex in a women's magazine. In 1993 she published The Late Show, which was aimed at older women.

See biography by J. Scanlon (2009).

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Brown, Helen Gurley

Brown, Helen Gurley

(1922-)
Cosmopolitan

Overview

Author and editor Helen Gurley Brown rose through the ranks of business from secretary to executive, with many of her achievements coming while she was unmarried and at a time when women were not common as business executives. Through her position as editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and her several books on single life, Brown defined the lifestyles of single people for an entire generation.

Personal Life

On February 18, 1922 Helen Gurley was born in Green Forest, Arkansas, to Ira and Cleo Gurley. Both schoolteachers, they raised Brown in modest surroundings in Little Rock. Ira Gurley died accidentally when Brown was only ten years old. A few years later, Helen's sister contracted polio, and the family was forced into an even more austere lifestyle. During this time, she also grew to dislike her home life, which she later described as "ordinary, hillbilly, and poor," and she sought to escape what she perceived as the crudeness of her neighbors and relatives.

Brown attended Texas State College for Women from 1939 to 1941 then moved to Los Angeles to begin a career as a secretary. In 1959, she married David Brown who was a motion picture producer with 20th Century-Fox.

Career Details

In 1941 Brown took the first of what was to be a string of 17 secretarial jobs in Los Angeles. This first job was for an announcer at radio station KHJ. While working at the station, she attended Woodbury Business College and studied secretarial skills. Later, Brown characterized both the job and her performance as "dreadful," but she not only supported herself, she also provided support to her family on her salary of $6 a week. Among the following secretarial jobs were stints with Music Corporation of America (MCA) and the William Morris Agency.

Brown learned that working for a glamorous company did not mean there was glamour for the employees or that the work was more rewarding. She later recalled how at one company, the secretaries were not allowed to use the lavish front entry and were required to use a back stairway to gain access to the office. Brown was working for the advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding in 1948 when she got her first break in the advertising business. Letters that she sent to her boss while he was out of town on business led to an opportunity to write ad copy for the agency.

Brown won two of her three Francis Holmes Advertising Copywriting Awards while with Foote, Cone & Belding as she discovered and developed a talent for writing advertising copy. She remained with this agency until 1958 and continued in advertising until 1962. Happily married at age 37 and involved in her career, she had worked, supported herself and struggled with the problems of single life and the issues of women in the work place. At that time, few women had the opportunity to excel in the corporate world, and Brown's success in advertising was remarkable. Yet, she looked to accomplish what she termed "the one big important thing." In 1962 Helen Gurley Brown took what she had learned as a single working woman and wrote a book that was to change her career.

Sex and the Single Girl caused an immediate sensation when published in 1962. It was simultaneously praised and condemned for its honesty and its portrayals of the realities of single life and the sexual activities of young unmarried women. Termed by some critics as "tasteless," it nevertheless remained on the best-seller lists into 1963, and it obviously provided information and guidance to an audience of young single women who craved it. With this book, Brown's career both changed and blossomed.

Brown began receiving fan letters from women asking her advice and addressing topics from her book. Writing a syndicated newspaper column called "Woman Alone" was not enough, and both Brown and her husband thought a market existed where a larger audience could be reached. The Browns worked together developing a plan for a magazine they tentatively named Femme. The couple wrote a prospectus and drew up a format including suggested articles and submitted the package to publishers. After a succession of failures with these submittals, they approached the Hearst Corporation. Hearst saw in the proposal an opportunity to rescue an existing property, and the Browns were given the chance to take over Cosmopolitan. Helen Gurley Brown began what would become the career she is most recognized for in 1965, when she became the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan.

Under Brown, Cosmopolitan proved to be popular with increasing numbers of women. A rather different type of magazine sales strategy was pursued—almost all sales were via newsstands, and the publisher was spared the problems and expense of subscriptions. Advertising revenues were high, and the magazine was profitable with sales to career-oriented single women. The magazine provided advice and insight to augment their growing tastes and to reinforce their independent lifestyles. Fashion and workplace advice along with articles on relationships struck a chord with readers, and under Brown's direction circulation increased from 700,000 to 2,800,000.

Brown has stated that her husband, David, wrote cover blurbs and approved articles even while maintaining his career as a motion picture producer. However, Brown herself wrote a featured column in each issue entitled "Step into My Parlor," and her comfortable, sympathetic, and personal style is still a trademark.

Additional books by Brown have continued her presence in the marketplace and added to her success as a spokesperson for single and working women: Sex and the Office (1965); The Outrageous Opinions of Helen Gurley Brown (1967); Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook (1969); Sex and the New Single Girl (1970); and Having It All (1982). Two of the books, Sex and the New Single Girl and Having It All were updates to her original success, Sex and the Single Girl. In 1993 she published a book targeted at women over the age of 50, The Late Show. In 1996 Bonnie Fuller was named Brown's successor as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, while Brown retained the responsibilities of editor-in-chief of the magazine's international publishing operations. She oversaw her final domestic issue in February 1997.

Social and Economic Impact

Helen Gurley Brown has had a prolonged and profound influence on the changing sexual mores in modern American society. She not only wrote about an area of great interest and importance, single and working women, she had lived the life she wrote about. Social attitudes were changing in America during the post-World War II era and through the sexually liberating times of the 1960s. Brown's writings, from Sex and the Single Girl through her columns and leadership at Cosmopolitan, exercised great influence over the thinking of women.

Brown also contributed greatly to the growing understanding that work outside the home can be a source of pride and accomplishment, both personally and financially, for women. Although she continued to insist men were an important part of women's lives, which put her at odds with more radical feminists, Brown did much to contribute to the liberation of women from the traditional role as homemaker. Brown remained childless and advocated the once-radical view that a woman could achieve satisfaction through her own efforts and not only through the joys of child-rearing. Her life is an example of the success a hard-working woman can achieve.

An avowed workaholic, Brown achieved much through hard work and dedication. She advanced through several secretarial positions to make opportunities for herself in advertising and parlayed success in writing into an opportunity to be editor-in-chief of a popular national magazine. She espoused the virtues of the working woman but did not turn her back on men, as she showed in her partnership with her husband.

Chronology: Helen Gurley Brown

1922: Born.

1941: Moved to Los Angeles to begin a career as a secretary.

1948: Became first woman copywriter at Foote, Cone & Belding.

1959: Married David Brown.

1962: Wrote Sex and the Single Girl.

1965: Became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan.

1988: Inducted into Publisher's Hall of Fame.

1993: Published The Late Show.

1997: Oversaw her final issue of Cosmopolitan.

Brown has won numerous awards during her career, including three consecutive Francis Holmes Achievement awards for her work in advertising during the 1950s. Among her journalism honors is a Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Southern California in 1971, an editorial leadership award from the American newspaper Women's Club of Washington, D.C., in 1972, and a Distinguished Achievement Award from Stanford University in 1977. She was inducted into the Publisher's Hall of Fame in 1988, and in 1997 was the recipient of a Financial World Career Achievement Award.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Cosmopolitan
224 West 57th St.
New York, NY 10019

Bibliography

Brown, Helen Gurley. Having It All, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982.

Brown, Helen Gurley. "Having It All." McCalls, March, 1993.

Brown, Helen Gurley. Sex and the Single Girl, New York: Random House, 1962.

Brown, Helen Gurley. "What the Women's Movement Means to Me." Ms., July, 1985.

Falkof, Lucille. Helen Gurley Brown: The Queen of Cosmopolitan, Ada, OK: Garrett Educational Corp., 1992.

Kornbluth, Jesse. "The Queen of the Mouseburgers." New York, 27 September 1982.

Mason, Margaret. "Still the Cosmo Girl." Washington Post, 19 March 1993.

Rothenberg, Randall. "The Cosmo Girl at Twenty-Five: She Still Wants It All." New York Times, 21 April 1990.

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Brown, Helen Gurley

BROWN, Helen Gurley

(b. 18 February 1922 in Green Forest, Arkansas), influential writer and magazine editor whose work in the 1960s celebrated the pleasures of being a single woman.

Brown was born to Arkansas schoolteachers Ira M. Gurley and Cleo Sisco. Her father, who had also served as a state legislator, died when she was ten years old. After her sister developed polio, her family's modest lifestyle became even more spartan. Brown attended Texas State College for Women but opted to move to Los Angeles in 1941 to start a secretarial career. She graduated from Woodbury Business College in 1942 and also took writing courses through the University of California, Los Angeles, extension school. She worked as a secretary and advertising copywriter until 1962.

Brown describes having transformed herself into a confident, financially secure, and independent woman during this period. "I once had the world's worst case of acne.… I grew up in a small town. I didn't go to college. My family was, and is, desperately poor, and I have always helped support them." She married the motion picture executive David Brown on 25 September 1959. They had no children.

With her husband's encouragement, she wrote Sex and the Single Girl (1962). Based on her own experiences, the book celebrates the single lifestyle and provides honest advice on everything from sex to entertaining. It became an instant best-seller. Brown's aim was to remove the stigma placed on the single life and give women a guide for staying single "in superlative style." At the time, women were expected to desire marriage and children rather than the single life, and to be single in one's thirties was viewed as a particularly awful predicament.

Although happily married when she wrote her book, Brown touted her thirty-seven years of being single as qualifying her as an expert. She tackled topics from fashion and lifestyle to domestic life and career in 267 pages.

The book was considered sensational at the time. Its candor, particularly regarding sex, generated condemnation. Who would have considered advocating relationships between married men and single women—even tips on spotting homosexual men—as appropriate? Although the 1960s were noted as a period when sexual freedoms were explored and celebrated, frank discussions of sexuality—especially women's sexuality—were still taboo early in the era. It was a popularly held belief that "nice girls" remained virgins until their wedding night. Brown knew better. The book filled a void in providing information to young women, causing Sex and the Single Girl to remain on bestseller lists into 1963. With the success of the book, Brown started writing a syndicated newspaper column, "Woman Alone."

Letters poured in from readers of Sex and the Single Girl. The Browns discussed how out of touch most contemporary women's magazines seemed and began concocting plans to start their own publication, devoted in great part to answering some of the questions readers continued to ask. Brown's publisher put her in contact with executives at the Hearst Corporation. The company, although unwilling to finance a new publication, decided to hire Brown. In 1965 she was named editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan.

The magazine, originally founded in 1886 as a general interest publication, was one of the oldest magazines in the United States. In 1964 its sales were off by 20 percent, and Brown was brought in to revamp the magazine. During the process she invented the image of the ideal contemporary woman, the "Cosmo girl." Each magazine cover featured one of these Cosmo girls—beautiful, provocatively clad women oozing confidence and sexuality.

Much like her book, Brown focused the editorial content of Cosmopolitan on advice for single women. Brown envisioned her prototypical reader as a youthful career woman, interested in topics from fashion to—of course—sex. Each issue included information about how to have a successful career as well as how to attract and keep a man. This feminine approach to feminism stood in stark contrast to those advocating radical political change for women in the late 1960s and 1970s. The magazine's circulation began steadily improving.

Feminist activists opposed Brown and differed with her opinions, arguing vehemently that she was setting the women's movement back by failing to be more overtly feminist in the magazine's content. They went so far as to organize a sit-in in 1970 at the Cosmopolitan offices.

Brown says feminists objected to the magazine because "they feel that Cosmo panders to men, that we try to make life comfortable for men, and you can't do that and be a feminist. I say you absolutely can." Rather than vilifying men, Brown espoused the beliefs that feminists could like men and that being a sex object was fine. "If you're not a sex object, you're in trouble. You want to be known for your brain, but to have somebody want you sexually is the best thing there is. You can still look pretty and smell pretty and achieve."

Brown also endured criticism from other quarters, especially from parents and others concerned about the morality of messages the magazine was sending young women. She said the assumption has been made "that Cosmo and I are leading their daughters astray. We aren't.… We say do your own work, … use your talent, live up to your potential."

In reflection Brown considers her tenure at Cosmopolitan her greatest professional success. "The next biggest success is my first book, Sex and the Single Girl, from which Cosmo stemmed. There wouldn't be any new Cosmo if it hadn't been for that book." Brown supervised her final issue of Cosmopolitan in February 1997.

Autobiographical information about Brown can be found in Sex and the Single Girl (1962). See also "Bad Girl Helen Gurley Brown, the Original Cosmo Girl, Defies Every Label You Want to Pin on Her," Psychology Today, 27, no. 2 (Mar.–Apr. 1994): 22–26.

Linda Dailey Paulson

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Brown, Helen Gurley

BROWN, Helen Gurley

BROWN, Helen Gurley. American, b. 1922. Genres: Human relations/Parenting, Sex, Women's studies and issues. Career: Ed.-in-Chief, 1965-, and Editorial Director of foreign eds., 1972-, Cosmopolitan mag., NYC. Executive Secretary, Music Corp. of America, 1942-45, and William Morris Agency, 1956-47; Copywriter, Foote Cone and Belding Advertising Agency, Los Angeles, California, 1948-58; Advertising Writer and Account Executive, Kenyon and Eckhardt Advertising Agency, Hollywood, California, 1958-62. Publications: Sex and the Single Girl, 1962; Sex and the Office, 1965; The Outrageous Opinions of Helen Gurley Brown, 1967; Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook, 1969; Sex and the New Single Girl, 1970; Having It All, 1982; The Late Show, 1993; The Writer's Rules, The Power of Positive Prose-How to Write It and Get It Published, 1998; I'm Wild Again, Snippets from My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts, 2000. Address: Cosmopolitan, The Hearst Corp, 959 8th Ave, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.

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Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown

Excerpt from Sex and the Single Girl
Published in 1962.

"I never met a completely happy single woman…or a completely happy married one!"

At a time when American society made it very clear that women should aspire to be wives and mothers, Helen Gurley Brown lived happily as a single, working woman. Recognizing that some women felt torn between society's expectations of them to marry and a drive to pursue careers, Brown wrote Sex and the Single Girl as a guide for others to enjoy the kind of life she had discovered for herself. In it she detailed how to get a satisfying job and earn pay raises, dress for success in business, eat right, and exercise. While no book had ever before offered women such useful career advice, the book became a sensation for its explicit discussion of sex between unmarried people. Brown described how to flirt, "be sexy," find available men, and have an affair. "The single woman," Brown wrote, was "far from being a creature to be pitied and patronized," but instead was "emerging as the newest glamour girl of our times."

Helen Gurley Brown was born on February 18, 1922, in Green Forest, Arkansas, the second daughter of Ira and Cleo (Sisco) Gurley. Both parents had worked as schoolteachers, but Cleo quit teaching to raise her two children. Ira Gurley moved his young family to Little Rock when he was elected to a seat in the state legislature. When Helen was ten years old, tragedy struck when her father was killed in an elevator accident, leaving her mother to support her daughters during the Great Depression (1929–41), a period of high unemployment. Cleo moved to Los Angeles. But her oldest daughter, Mary, contracted polio there, and large medical bills strained the family's finances. (Polio is a disease that causes paralysis.) Helen did well in high school and worked to put herself through college while helping to support her mother and sister.

After a succession of seventeen different secretarial jobs, Brown landed an executive secretary position at an advertising agency. She worked hard at her job and impressed her boss with the funny letters she wrote when traveling. But when she wrote an essay which won Glamour magazine's "Girls of Taste" contest, her boss offered her the opportunity to write advertising copy. She quickly displayed talent for the task and became an award-winning copywriter. By the late 1950s, Brown had become the top-paid female copywriter on the West Coast.

In 1959, when she was thirty-seven, Brown married film executive David Brown. Her husband encouraged her to write a book about her experiences as a single woman. Her book Sex and the Single Girl was published in 1962 and became an immediate best-seller. Never before had the sex life of single women been so openly discussed. The following excerpt is taken from the final chapter of the book. It sums up Brown's advice for women, encouraging them to accept that neither single life nor married life is always blissful. She invites single women to ignore society's pressure to marry and to embrace the opportunities of the single life without guilt.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Sex and the Single Girl:

  • At the time Sex and the Single Girl was published, it was acceptable for single men to have sex, but not single women. Brown's book was the first popular book to address the concept that single women have sexual desires just as men do. This was one of the key ideas of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, a movement that encouraged people to reconsider many traditional beliefs about sexuality.
  • The introduction in 1960 of the first oral contraceptive (birth control pill), commonly called the Pill, helped raise the debate about sexuality because it enabled women to separate sex from procreation.
  • By 1965, five million women were taking the Pill.

Excerpt from Sex and the Single Girl

Chapter 13: The Rich, Full Life

I never met a completely happy single woman…or a completely happy married one!

A single woman admittedly has a special set of problems, but I think her worst one is not the lack of someone to belong to officially but the pippy-poo, day-to-day annoyances that plague her. For example, she has purchased a secondhand TV set from a private owner, and the 400-pound bargain is waiting in the trunk of her car to be brought upstairs and hooked up. She hasn't a date until next weekend—and anyway she outweighs him by ten pounds!

Or she has called a taxi to take her to the airport for a 6 A.M. departure. The taxi is now thirty minutes late, and she must be on that plane to keep an important business appointment in another city. A married woman could simply wake up a husband. That's what I did once in such a predicament. I woke up a husband next door ( and his wife, unfortunately, or I might have had more luck) and asked if he would mind driving me to a central part of town where I could find a cab. He was anything but thrilled with the idea, considering his wife's admonitions which I could hear from the bedroom,and I can't say I really blamed her. Mercifully, my taxi arrived while he was probably wondering how to say no.

These are the frustrating little experiences thatvex and humiliate a single woman from time to time; however, they are not so frequent as to make life unendurable. I've jotted down a few suggestions for coping with them.

And for a finale I can't resist adding a few last thoughts on how I think a single woman can have a happier life.

Be Brazen When Helpless

If there's anything you can't lift, lug, tote, tug or tow alone, you'll just have to get help; and it will mean imposing on your friends as well as total strangers. You'll have to speak up, too. Nobody's going to know you need a before-work ride to the doctor for abasal metabolism if you don't say so.

You'll find ways to repay. You'll help move them to their new apartment when the time comes, or bake a cake or send a valentine. You can even offer money tactfully, though you'll probably be refused.

Even wives have to be brazen sometimes. I know one married to a mechanical incompetent; for weeks she has been hunting for somebody able to get the hard-top off her convertible.…

Don't Compare Yourself to Married Couples

Your apartment, though charming, is not meant to compete with leading architects' houses photographed in Better Homes and Gardens. Your entertaining, often hostless, can't be like a couple's. Your guests, though highly amusing, could be considered a little off-beat in Married-landia. Your investment program can't begin to compare with a top executive's. But whose college education are you planning?

Married couples go places in neat little twos, fours, and sixes—which seems so orderly. Naturally they do! There are two of each, so they multiply for social outings in twos like themselves. But you are not one of Noah's aardvarks, and it is all right to move in threes and fives occasionally. HearingDixieland with a good friend and her beau is not the worst kind of evening when all you'd planned was to go to bed early. Having dinner with two delightful men can be sensational. Unmarried people's parties are often livelier because of the non-pairings.

The married usually go places on Saturday night, which seems so normal and American! Saturday is the logical night for parents to hire a baby sitter, do the whole bit and sleep late the next morning. What if your next big date is on a Tuesday? The food, the wine, the music and the chatter are just as sweet and the atmosphere is better for being less crowded.

Don't Fold Up over What You Read—or Don't Read

Many publications deal with the problems of single women in the same vein as their articles on fall-out. I read a newspaper editorial last night which stated among other philosophies: "The bachelor is only half-man or half-woman. They are to be pitied." Now really!

Still other publications—most others for that matter—ignore the existence of single women entirely!…

You see enough picture stories in national publications about couples and families to make you feel like the sole occupant of a life raft. To further depress you, the couples and families are always blueberry-pie normal, as industrious as gophers, and as much at home in the world as an egg in custard.

We know the married state is the normal one in our culture, and anybody who deviates from "normal" has a price to pay innonacceptance and nonglorification . There is no one universal "normal" time, however, for participating in the normal state of marriage. Furthermore, part of what you are at the moment, missing in marriage may be well worth missing!

Ernest Havemann, writing on love and marriage in the September 29, 1961, issue of Life, says:

Married love is not a constant round of candy, flowers and birthday presents. It is more likely to be a long series of sacrifices in which the fishing trip gives way to a down payment on a washer and the new party dress gives way to an appendectomy, and where even the weekly night out at the movies may have to give way to new shoes for the kids. It is not a guarantee of living happily ever after, for every marriage involves struggle, boredom, illness, financial problems and worry over the children.…

The love nest in the suburbs has a leaky roof, crabgrass, a mortgage that burns up every second paycheck and mice which the bride has to catch and dispose of single-handed because the husband has an annoying way of being on a business trip during every crisis.

The groom, alas, is not quite so brilliant as promised. His job prospects fade. He never earns that million dollars. He loseshis hair and his teeth. His wife loses her figure. The babies are not the dimpled darlings of the ads, butimperious tyrants who have to be bottled, burped, bathed and changed.…"

Are you really a great deal worse off than a wife?

[…]

Put Your Guilt Away

Would it surprise you to know that your most wicked and base thoughts—secret fantasies—even leanings to homosexuality, are not unusual, and should not alarm you? You may share your desire to make love to an African lion with the vicar's wife—or even the vicar! Far from making you a depraved monster, your thinking is probably not even original. This is theconsensus of psychiatrists. Doing something about these thoughts and not merely thinking them is what makes you cuckoo!

Perhaps you will reconsider the idea that sex without marriage is dirty. This is not a plea to get you into bed—your moral code is your business—but if you are already involved you might remember that sex was here a long time before marriage. You inherited yourproclivity for it. It isn't some random piece of mischief you dreamed up because you're a bad, wicked girl.

The psychiatrist I mentioned before frequently shows sexually guilt-ridden patients pictures from anentomology book. All the patients can figure out at first look is that they are seeing some kind of bug. "And do you know what the bugs are doing?" the doctor asks. No, they don't know. Well, the bugs, according to the text, are Mediterranean fruit flies engaged in the act of mating. "Okay, so what?" asks the patient. And the doctor explains that, by the patient's own concept of sex, he is looking at some very dirty pictures, indeed!

The point is, you may be much harder on yourself than you are on other creatures of nature who are less deserving of your tolerance. When you accept yourself, with all your foibles, you will be able to accept other people too. And you and they will be happier to be near you. (Big order, but you can fill it.)

Use the Time

The single years are very precious years because that's when you have the time and personal freedom for adventure.

Of course, maddeningly, the least appealing time to do anything is when you already aren't doing something.

If you can forget thestultifying concept that there are appropriate years for certain endeavors (like getting married) and appropriate days for being gay and merry (like Saturday nights) and use these times without embarrassment or self-pity to do something creative and constructive (what an assignment!), I believe half your single-girl battle is over.…

But if you are worried about being single, or, more importantly, uneasy about being you all your life (as I was and still am),intermittent forays into dressing, cooking, looking, flirting, and flattering better can help you rout the trembles.

One last thought: When you do start new projects, don't tell anyone. Once you've talked and bragged about your I'm-doing-me-over plans, you won't do them!

Finally

You may marry or you may not. In today's world that is no longer the big question for women. Those whoglom on to men so that they can collapse with relief, spend the rest of their days shining up their status symbol and figure they never have to reach, stretch, learn, grow, face dragons or make a living again are the ones to be pitied. They, in my opinion, are the unfulfilled ones.

You, my friend, if you work at it, can be envied the rich, full life possible for the single woman today. It's a good show…enjoy it from wherever you are.…

The End

What happened next…

Helen Gurley Brown maintained her media presence with a syndicated newspaper advice column, albums, and radio shows, but her second book, Sex and the Office (1964), failed to interest audiences as much as her first. In 1965 the Hearst magazine corporation offered Brown the chance to recreate Cosmopolitan magazine as editor in chief.

Brown immediately made the formerly conservative magazine the female equivalent to the men's magazine, Playboy. Brown quickly won a large audience for the magazine by introducing sexier cover models and controversial topics. By the time Brown "retired" as editor in chief of Cosmopolitan in 1996, she had transformed it into one of Hearst's most successful magazines.

Brown's celebration of an independent life for women was published a year before Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, which offered married women suggestions to make their married life more fulfilling. The two books' differing views of women's lives sparked lively debates about women's place in society. Indeed, the books also initiated discussion about the definition of feminism. Despite much controversy, both Brown and Friedan considered themselves feminists.

Did you know…

  • Warner Brothers purchased the rights to Sex and the Single Girl for what was then the highest price ever paid for a nonfiction title. They made a film of the same name in 1964 starring Natalie Wood (as Helen Gurley Brown) and Tony Curtis.
  • Sex and the Single Girl sparked debates about whether women put themselves in lesser positions to men when they dress or act in ways that appeal to men.
  • Brown's book shocked many people for its open discussion of sexuality.

Consider the following…

  • If Sex and the Single Girl were published today, how would public reaction to it differ from that of the 1960s?
  • How do you think a single mother's opinion of single life would have differed from Helen Gurley Brown's in the 1960s?
  • In what ways does Brown's advice to single women still apply today?

For More Information

Books

Brown, Helen Gurley. Sex and the Single Girl. New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1962.

Escoffier, Jeffrey, ed. Sexual Revolution. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003.

Williams, Mary E., ed. The Sexual Revolution. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2002.

Vex: Bother.

Basal metabolism: A calculation of the minimum calorific requirement needed to sustain a person's life.

Dixieland: A style of jazz music associated with the South.

Nonacceptance and non-glorification: Social discomfort and disregard.

Imperious tyrants: Demanding rulers.

Consensus: General agreement.

Proclivity: Inclination toward something.

Entomology: The scientific study of insects.

Stultifying: Absurd, foolish, or ridiculous.

Intermittent forays: Occasional attempts to do something new or out of the ordinary.

Glom on: To grab hold of.

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