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The Oldest Living Cosmo Girl Has Left Us
August 13, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Author and longtime Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown has died at the age of 90.

Widely credited with rescuing the then-failing Cosmopolitan by jettisoning the magazine's focus on married suburban Moms and replacing it with a ferocious dedication to the image of the vivacious, sex-positive "Cosmo Girl", she was also well known as the author of the shocking-for-its-time Sex and the Single Girl, a tome that encouraged women to become independent - both financially and sexually - before marrying, if they bothered to marry at all. “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”, she famously said of "Cosmo Girls".
posted by MissySedai (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Judith Thurman profile in The New Yorker.
posted by Egg Shen at 3:15 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by Anitanola at 3:18 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by Bwithh at 3:20 PM on August 13, 2012




Sex and the Single Girl is the book that made her famous, but her Having It All (sadly out of print) made a bigger impression on me, since I read it as I was getting out into the real world and getting real jobs and starting to date actual men instead of boys. It honestly helped me as much as anything in my transition from awkward punk rock girl to...well, at least being able to fool people for long enough that they'd give me a salary job.

From one mouseburger to another, Helen:

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posted by padraigin at 3:33 PM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


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posted by immlass at 3:36 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by drezdn at 3:47 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by Sphinx at 3:49 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by brina at 3:51 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:52 PM on August 13, 2012


One of the reasons modern girls rock so hard.

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posted by djrock3k at 3:52 PM on August 13, 2012


I am going to post 100 dots for each way this news displeases this guy.
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posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:52 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think of her as such a modern person and creator of the contemporary world, that I'm amazed to hear she was 90.

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posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:00 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


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Last month I digitized and posted my copy of Helen Gurley Brown - Lessons In Love (1962), a most fabulous record.
50 years old, and still a fabulously wise listen. :)
posted by Theta States at 4:01 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:02 PM on August 13, 2012


Loved her. "Having It All" made a huge impression on me as well.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:02 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by hot_monster at 4:04 PM on August 13, 2012


I think of her as such a modern person and creator of the contemporary world, that I'm amazed to hear she was 90.

This sums up what I was thinking exactly. She will always be of her time and yet timeless to me.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:15 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by bjgeiger at 4:20 PM on August 13, 2012


Hearing this news today, I thought about the fact that every time I see a Cosmo cover, it's invariably some wretched variation on 50 Naughty Orgasms He Can't Wait to Have (But Doesn't Dare Ask For)! I wondered if she was pleased/displeased with how that all turned out.

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posted by the sobsister at 4:26 PM on August 13, 2012


I'm sure she was real disappointed, weeping into that giant pile of fame and fortune she amassed.
posted by Renoroc at 4:32 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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I hope she's in a place where she can compare middle name notes with Gerard Manley Hopkins.
posted by sy at 4:42 PM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


She was acquainted with my dad by way of the Pickwick and inscribed my mother's copy of her Single Girls' Cookbook: To the girl who got him! Although I think that A is the lucky one....

One of the chapters suggested making dinner for one's favorite literary character if one was by herself that evening.
posted by brujita at 5:06 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by brujita at 5:06 PM on August 13, 2012


What an influence she wielded, for good and for less-good.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:14 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sex and the Single Girl is the book that made her famous, but her Having It All (sadly out of print) made a bigger impression on me, since I read it as I was getting out into the real world and getting real jobs and starting to date actual men instead of boys. It honestly helped me as much as anything in my transition from awkward punk rock girl to...well, at least being able to fool people for long enough that they'd give me a salary job.

Same here! Having it All was one of the more actually helpful self-help books I've read.

From another mouseburger:

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posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:24 PM on August 13, 2012


There was an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine a few weeks ago with samples from Cosmopolitan editions from around the world--Singapore, Kazakhstan, Argentina, &c.--if I recall right there was about 90 of them.

My favorite Cosmopolitan quip is the episode of All in the Family where Archie and Edith are visiting Gloria and Michael at their new home in California and they find out that Gloria is having an affair and Archie says,

"I knew this was gonna happen when she brought that first Cosmopolitan into the house."
posted by bukvich at 5:38 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nasty Things to Say at a Funeral (page 18)

She finally lost that last 5 pounds.
What happened, did she try the sex tips?
She finally found out if the devil wears Prada.
I hear her corpse looks so good, Tom Petty invited her to a funeral after party.

Next month's issue Rock Hard Abs in just 6 hours with the rigamortis workout.
posted by humanfont at 5:44 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by theartandsound at 5:52 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by tzikeh at 6:48 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by LobsterMitten at 7:33 PM on August 13, 2012


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Twenty years later and I still don't know what to think of my younger self. Wearing ripped jeans, flannel shirts and Doc Martins but also picking up Cosmo as soon as it hit the newsstand. HGB was already into her senior years, but looking fabulous in the editor's column. Daring to talk about so many things that never were discussed in my suburban, Catholic home.

Plus, I loved the quizzes.
posted by saffry at 7:38 PM on August 13, 2012


I have no idea if she meets anybody's standards of feminist correctness, but she may have been more sexually radical than either de Beauvoir or Friedan.

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posted by jonp72 at 7:42 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by ants at 7:51 PM on August 13, 2012


Simone de Beauvoir was pretty sexually radical in her personal life. Helen Gurley Brown was in a monogamous marriage for 50+ years.

When it came to their writing, I think that Brown made a huge impact on how mainstream media dealt with women's sexuality, sometimes to the good (acknowledging it) and sometimes to the bad (commodifying it). De Beauvoir's impact was felt more in academia and in the field of clinical psychology, and I think was considerably more broad in its scope.

I don't quite see the utility of comparing their work, which was so different in so many ways.

Comparing Helen Gurley Brown and Betty Friedan seems more fruitful; both were longtime professional journalists who wrote bestsellers that were seen as redefining particular roles for women ( "single girls" for Brown, "housewives" for Friedan). Of course, Friedan critiqued the former book strongly; Brown's response was something marvelous like "oh, this is my hotsy totsy little book and I just put it out there because I thought girls would read it."

Sex and the Single Girl is really a charming book. So is The Feminine Mystique. Both Brown and Friedan had a great way of cutting through platitudes with common sense.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:03 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Comparing Helen Gurley Brown and Betty Friedan seems more fruitful

I wholeheartedly agree, especially since I've lived both those lives--career girl on the make-and-take, and homemaker. Two women who wrote their masterworks before I was even born, and they both really affected how I thought/think about my own life and choices.

It was never that hard for me to contextualize their work to my own situation so many years later, but I suspect that some day my own daughters will be totally mystified by both writers, being too far removed from the time.
posted by padraigin at 8:27 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


My absolute favorite description of Cosmopolitan was from Kurt Vonnegut, who in talking about the short stories he sold to the magazine early in his career, said it "has since transformed into a harrowing sex manual."

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posted by usonian at 8:52 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the Wikipedia link: Ira Marvin Gurley died in an elevator accident on June 18, 1932.
From Find a Grave: Death: Jun. 17, 1932. Little Rock. Pulaski County. Arkansas, USA. Ira M. Gurley, a schoolteacher, was killed in an elevator accident While living in Little Rock Ar. on June 18, 1932.
Buried the day before he died!
I wonder what the elevator accident was?
posted by unliteral at 9:04 PM on August 13, 2012


My apologies if this isn't suitably elegiatic, but the song that's been coursing through my head since the first obits came out:
She thinks she's Edith Head
But you might know she's not
The accent in her speech
She didn't have growing up

She thinks she's Edith Head
Or Helen Gurley Brown
Or some other cultural figure
We don't know a lot about


Also, didn't the NPR obit seem a bit misleading. with Helen being "gently showed the door in 1997"? The Scalon bio, and NYTimes obit seem to say that she's maintained the pink corner office until now.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 10:07 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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@Uniliteral, he was planning to run for Secretary of State and was killed in an elevator accident at the State Capitol Building. This reference in a Google books preview was the best I could find. Maybe someone else has access to Little Rock newspapers from 1932.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:28 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by infini at 10:45 PM on August 13, 2012


(that simple dot doesn't begin to capture my love/hate relationship with Cosmo begun oh so many miles ago in random parts of the third world, ending up with the realization at 36/divorced that it was the very same media pushing towards wanting to make me feel like a biological clock loser that Brown was fighting against with her books)
posted by infini at 11:02 PM on August 13, 2012


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posted by Lynsey at 11:28 PM on August 13, 2012


I wonder what the elevator accident was?

This was back when elevators needed operators. They weren't safe or easy to use. And her sister caught polio in Los Angeles. It was an entirely different world. Encouraging women to "independent - both financially and sexually - before marrying, if they bothered to marry at all" was radical for the time.
posted by pracowity at 11:59 PM on August 13, 2012


New York Times: "She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger. "
posted by pracowity at 12:22 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have my mother's copy of Sex and the Single Girl, it's one of those books I can quote chapter and verse. I must dig out Having It All again, I think it's in my 'treasured battered slightly dodgy books I don't want to have to explain to people" cache under the bed.

I love HGB's humour, the charm of the way she cheerfully exposed her own hangups, her inconsistency - she was never setting out to beat people over the head with a Perfect Feminist Message - in one chapter she would tell us that working hard and making your own way in the world was the best way to be able to hold your head up in the world, in the next, positing that perhaps you have to be just a teensy bit anorexic to succeed in keeping your weight down.
In everything she wrote, her personality came through loud and clear. She made me laugh. I feel like I knew her.

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posted by Catch at 3:29 AM on August 14, 2012


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posted by fiercecupcake at 8:06 AM on August 14, 2012


They weren't safe or easy to use.
Well, it looks like it might still be not safe to ride an elevator at the Capitol Hill apartments.
posted by unliteral at 5:45 PM on August 14, 2012


This is from the New York Times fashion police August 15. It is little one paragraph reminiscences from people like Erica Jong.
posted by bukvich at 10:06 AM on August 16, 2012


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