Monday, August 13, 2012

Fifty Shades of Ms. Brown

"What you have to do is work with the raw material
you have, mainly you, and never let up."

Helen Gurley Brown 1922-2012

Helen Gurley Brown will be remembered by most for her post as longtime Editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Her first book, "Sex and the Single Girl", published in 1962, was considered quite controversial at the time. A list of her books is as intriguing now as they were back then; "Sex in the Office", "The Late Show, a Semi Wild but Practical Guide for Women over 50", "I'm Wild Again...Snippets from my Life and a few Brazen Thoughts" name a few.

The first time I saw her name and likeness was when I got my first issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine in ninth grade.  I remember thinking, "There is so much juicy stuff in here, should I be able to buy this??".....Oh, it was delightful....things I didn't get to talk about with the older girls, explained to me here, in my language, page after page!

I grew up in a Midwestern small town, before the internet was more than Compuserve, and with parents who, bless their hearts, did not and still don't want to pay for cable TV.  There were few references to such sophistication and glamour as Cosmopolitan Magazine! I wanted to look just like those tall, perfect, sophisticated beings, and dress like them too....not to mention live out their courageous and exciting lives! It was my dream future in the mail once a month. Some of the articles had such enticing names I was embarassed to leave it lying around the house, what if my parents saw?

Seeing Ms. Brown's picture and letter from the editor was a monthly occurrence for me and millions of other women through the 1990's. Until, one day, she wasn't there. A new person's face and name appeared, Bonnie Fuller..... I gave Ms. Fuller a chance and I'm sure she was great, but the magazine took on a different tone after that that just didn't fit me. It was punchy, fun, and saucy, but the high glamour had "homogenized" into something more mainstream. Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmopolitan had provided me with an exotic version of life, one that I would only sometimes attain, but I still loved it the way it was....the fantasy of what's "out there".  When the familiar subscription card arrived in the mail later that year, with a sigh and a long pause I tossed it out, and with it.....a little bit of magic.

As many know, Helen Gurley Brown was an original "Peggy" in Madmen, so to speak. Starting out as a secretary in the 1960's and moving up the ranks quickly to copywriter, was beyond rare. (Just ask my mother in law, Marilyn, who worked on Madison Avenue for 42 years).

Ms. Brown has also been compared to the "Carrie Bradshaw" character from Sex and the City, but I don't agree with that one quite as much. Carrie Bradshaw was funny, witty, cute, but Helen Gurley Brown was a trailblazer! Back in 1962 people didn't even use the words "sex and a single girl" in public. She wrote a book about it!

Helen and her late husband, David Brown, recently formed the "Brown Institute for Media Innovation", a $30 million venture which will be housed at both Columbia University and Stanford. "B.I.M." was founded to develop journalism in the context of new technologies. He was 91, she was 88 at the time. Both progressive thinkers, they focused on the future, and left a legacy of providing education for "up and coming" writers and artists.

Her love of life, zest for the sexual health of the female, and her flair for putting it all in writing are what I will most remember about Ms. Helen Gurley Brown.

Photo by Radu Razvan Gheorghe,