Helen Gurley Brown dies; editor of Cosmo and author of ‘Sex and the Single Girl’ was 90

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from www.washingtonpost.com – Helen Gurley Brown, the influential editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and zesty author of the 1962 bestseller “Sex and the Single Girl,” a book that helped spur the sexual revolution by declaring that women could “have it all” — including a career, marriage and great sex — died Aug. 13 at a hospital in New York City. She was 90.

Her death, of undisclosed causes, was announced by the Hearst Corp., the owner of Cosmopolitan.

The svelte and glamorous Mrs. Brown, who in her four decades at Cosmo transformed the faltering general-interest magazine into a newsstand powerhouse with a circulation of more than 2.5 million, regarded herself as a champion of feminine power even as her Cosmo covers promoted “20 ways to please your man” and other tips to attract male attention.

“Sex and the Single Girl,” written when Mrs. Brown was 40 and married, aimed to revolutionize single women’s attitudes toward their lives. The book, published a year before Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” sold millions of copies and became a cultural touchstone with its message that single women didn’t need to be married to enjoy sex and didn’t need to apologize for it, either.

“I think marriage is insurance for the worst years of your life,” she wrote. “During your best years, you don’t need a husband. You do need a man of course every step of the way, and they are often cheaper emotionally and a lot more fun by the dozen.”

Her book was an outrageously bold riposte to a modern culture she thought was far too Victorian in its attitudes toward women and their right to seek pleasure and get ahead in the bargain.

She cautioned that interoffice relationships were fraught with peril but that the payoffs could be crucial for women to advance in the workplace. She warned women not to take such affairs seriously and instead see any profit — from gifts or raises — as fair compensation, considering the huge disparity in salaries between the sexes.

Reliably saucy, Mrs. Brown became a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show.” But as the years passed, many in the second-wave feminist movement, including Friedan and Gloria Steinem, said Mrs. Brown and her accent on pleasing men fostered a deeply offensive approach toward female empowerment.

“Sex and the Single Girl” and Mrs. Brown’s prominent role at Cosmo cemented in the minds of her strongest critics that she was objectifying women above all else. She had defenders as well, including novelist Judith Krantz, who once said, “There is a lot women can learn from Cosmo about living intelligently.”

Mrs. Brown, a successful advertising copywriter before she wrote “Sex and the Single Girl,” saw herself as a germane inspiration to women long after the 1960s. She championed the values of hard work and thrift and credited both for her rise from a self-described “mouseburger” to one of the most powerful women in publishing.

She said she was writing for most women, who, like herself, were not born to privilege or blessed with beauty or a college education. And it was those women she was aiming to inspire in her writing, namely by taking more responsibility for the direction of their lives.

“You can’t sleep your way to the top or even to the middle, and there is no such thing as a free lunch,” she wrote in “Sex and the Single Girl. “You have to do it yourself, so you might as well get started.”

Helen Marie Gurley was born in Green Forest, Ark., deep in the Ozark mountains, on Feb. 18, 1922.

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She often described her background as “hillbilly,” and she said her Depression-era childhood left her “mildly terrified” about the prospect of bankruptcy and failure. This fear deepened after the death of her father, a schoolteacher and state legislator, in an elevator accident in Little Rock when she was 10.

She later described her mother, Cleo, also a schoolteacher, as prone to depression. Cleo Gurley struggled to keep the family together, taking in sewing and caring for an older daughter, Mary, who had contracted polio. Cleo settled the family in Los Angeles, near the hospital where Mary received treatment.

Helen completed high school in Los Angeles and was class valedictorian, an accomplishment she attributed as overcompensation for a bad acne problem and less-than-voluptuous figure. She attended Texas State College for Women before financial reversals led her back to Los Angeles.

She took shorthand classes and held more than a dozen secretarial jobs to support her family. She said she took it personally when she was not chased around the office like the other young women. Lack of harassment, in her view, was not to be envied.

She would later write in her bestseller: “If you’re not a sex object, you’re in trouble.”

In 1948, she joined Foote Cone & Belding, an advertising agency where she became executive secretary to board chairman Don Belding.

Her boss recognized her facility with words, especially in vivacious letters to him when he was out of town, and promoted her to copywriter. Several years later, working as a copywriter and account executive at Kenyon & Eckhardt, she became one of the nation’s highest-paid advertising writers.

Meanwhile, she dated several of her bosses and a number of well-known men, including champion boxer Jack Dempsey and Ron Getty, the son of oil billionaire J. Paul Getty. In 1959, when she was 37, she married David Brown, an executive with 20th Century Fox movie studios who later produced films including “Jaws,” “The Sting” and “The Verdict.”

Brown, to whom she was married until his death in 2010, was one of her biggest fans and supporters, and he urged her to write “Sex and the Single Girl” after professing delight in reading many of her early letters to boyfriends.

Mrs. Brown often used her own long and faithful marriage as an example when doling out tips for happy relationships. Among them: “Communicate maniacally” and “always say yes to sex.”

The book brought her national prominence, and that fame was heightened in 1964 with a movie version of “Sex and the Single Girl” in which Natalie Wood played a fictitious version of Mrs. Brown.

She launched a syndicated newspaper advice column, called Woman Alone, and wrote several more books, including “Sex and the Office” (1964) and “Helen Gurley Brown’s Outrageous Opinions” (1966). The latter also became the name of her short-lived TV talk show.

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