RIP Helen Gurley Brown — Feb. 18, 1922 to Aug. 13, 2012

Published August 14, 2012 by Maryanne

Author of “Sex and the Single Girl” and Cosmopolitan editor for over 30 years

Burt Reynolds, famous Cosmo layout, during the Gurley-Brown reign in ’70s

Model Paulina, 1980s cover

I remember the first time I saw Cosmopolitan magazine.

It was in the 1970s and Burt Reynolds was the “centerfold.”

I was only a kid, but my mom and aunt, who were only in their 20s, were giggling and showing the picture to me, my younger sister and younger cousin.

My grandfather got pissed at them for showing us such “filth.”

I was intrigued.

From that day on, every month when my mother’s Cosmopolitan issue came I had to look at it. I was too young to even know how to pronounce “Cosmopolitan” and as a little girl, referred to the magazine as “Cosmo-Politician.”

I guess in some ways beauty could be politics. But even in my young age, I figured out how to work it.

I asked my mother what she learned from the magazine.

“How ugly I am,” she said.

But on the contrary …

Each month they had a feature where they did make-overs for women. Cosmopolitan made plain Janes (“mouse burgers” as Gurley Brown would call them!) into goddesses via make-up and hairstyling.

So as the skinny kid with pimples and glasses — before glasses were fashionable — Cosmopolitan was my ray of hope. And once I got my hands into make-up, I transformed myself into a beautiful 15-year-old who looked 18 (the thing all 15-year-olds wanted to hear!)

Throughout the 1980s I tried to emulate the looks of the models on the cover — big hair and a ton of make-up! Fuschia on the cheeks and eyes was a key element to “the look.” And don’t forget, Aqua Net Extra Super Hold — otherwise known as “glue in a can.” Every photo I posed for, I pouted — whether it was at a nightclub, for work or for family. I wanted to be Cosmo 24/7.

And if anyone doubted my look (because growing up in suburbia meant being surrounded by a lot of conservatives) I’d tell them they don’t know what they are talking about because they obviously don’t read Cosmopolitan!

I was never jealous of Cosmopolitan models. My attitude was was more of a “Yay, I can do this too!” kinda thing. Because all it took back then was the art of make-up and a good tease with a comb. Unlike today where women are brainwashed into thinking they need Botox, veneers, Japanese straight perms and plastic surgery to be acceptable. And then they still don’t think they look good enough.

Looking back, my favorite Helen Gurley Brown quotes include:

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

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

“What you have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.”

After Helen Gurley Brown’s book, “Sex and the Single Girl” was published in the 1960s, she was the editor-in-chief Cosmopolitan and stayed with the magazine until 1997, when she was replaced by Bonnie Fuller.

And it was during that time that I lost interest in the magazine. I was now in my 30s and living a very cool, edgy life, writing for a NYC newspaper, making my own social circles. I was no longer intrigued with the styles of models because I started creating my own.

Plus, when you read a magazine for over a decade, articles start to recycle. How many times can you read about how to please a man in bed? By the time you’re in your 30s, you should know.

With the dismiss of Brown’s reign, I turned to women’s magazines more suited to me, personally, like “Sassy” (later “Jane”), “Bust” and “Bitch.” These magazines were better for me because they embraced the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and were more anti-fashion than fashion. Since the young audience of these magazines were free-spirits they made their own art, not necessarily emulating models. Bad asses like Courtney Love and Drew Barrymore were on the covers. Models had braces and pink hair. And you could read articles about the Prozac Nation and young rockers you’d like to date.

While Gurley Brown was famous for being feminist, “Jane” “Bust” and “Bitch” were feminist-supreme. Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmopolitan paved the way to magazine greatness for the next generation!

And let’s not forget all the television shows she inspired! Shows about the modern, independent woman: “Sex in the City.” “Mary Tyler Moore”; and “That Girl” to name a few!

Mind you, I don’t agree with all of Gurley Brown’s philosophies, some of them being very depressing (like being as thin as possible without getting sick or getting breast implants at age 73 or her views on money). But I do think she contributed more than her share to society for being a cutting edge trend-setter and a person who stood up for what she believed in.

RIP Helen Gurley Brown –yet  another original bites the dust.

8 comments on “RIP Helen Gurley Brown — Feb. 18, 1922 to Aug. 13, 2012

  • What a great post! loved it. Of course I feel ridiculous telling you that. You are after all the accomplished, award winning writer….. duh.
    But I think this is one of my favorites so far.
    My mom had that Burt Reynolds poster too.

    • OMG, thank you so much! Don’t ever feel ridiculous giving a journalist a compliment, LOL. It’s not like we’re rock stars and get them all the time. Ninety percent of the time we don’t even know people are reading our articles.

      That’s so funny your mom had that Burt Reynolds poster too. I loved that era so much. I’m always saying to my husband I wish we were the age we are now, but in the 1970s.

  • Helen Gurley Brown definitely was a trail blazer. I remember being so shocked at some of the covers when I was little and reading them at the supermarket checkout counter. LOL! Now, none of it is shocking. We are so jaded now. I remember reading her book and it giving step by step directions on giving blow jobs. It was in college at a girls lunch and we all took turns reading the steps out loud and laughing our asses off. Too funny!

  • Very nice job. Although I am a guy, I was touched by her, too. I was in the publishing business at the time and tried to buy the paperback rights to Sex and the Single Girl. lol Couldn’t afford it.

    I did enjoy her readers, though.

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