Tuesday, August 14, 2012

RIP Helen Gurley Brown


Regular Byters will know that my only begotten daughter, Acacia, in whom I am well pleased, is the art director of Cosmopolitan Middle East.   The death today of former long-time editor in chief of Cosmo, Helen Gurley Brown (1922-2012), 90, was saddening for her in that she had met Helen a number of times, the last occasion only a couple of weeks ago in New York.  According to my daughter’s text message, “She changed my life”.  Acacia has asked me to feature HGB in tonight's Bytes post.

Acacia with Ms Brown

Some of the comments in news articles today about Helen Gurley Brown: 

“...the editor who made Cosmopolitan magazine into a single girl's handbook of sex and glamour” 

“...shocked early-1960s America with the news that unmarried women not only had sex but thoroughly enjoyed it — and as the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine spent the next three decades telling those women precisely how to enjoy it even more” 

“...one of the biggest pioneers in magazines” 

A detailed article by Mia Freedman on the life and impact of Helen Gurley Brown can be read at:
“The Day I Met Helen Gurley Brown."  Mia is a former editor of Cosmo Sydney and a colleague of Acacia.

Some comments about HGB: 

Helen Gurley Brown’s book “Sex and the Single Girl”, published in 1962 when she was 40, came at a time when attitudes towards sex were quite different from today.  Her central theme – that single women could have sex and enjoy it – both enlightened and divided.  She was denounced by some of the leaders of second wave feminism, yet hailed by others as a founder of it. 

In television promotions for the book she was often barred from using the word “sex”. 

HGB became chief editor of Cosmopolitan in 1965, reversing its decline and renaming it from The Cosmopolitan in 1967.  Originally a family magazine, under HGB’s editorship it changed its focus to women and continued the openness of her book in addressing shame free female sexuality.  Women’s health, women’s issues and beauty were also added as favourite topics. 

In 1972 the magazine caused a considerable controversy by being the first magazine to publish a nude male centrefold, of actor Burt Reynolds:

“Her philosophy for Cosmo was the same one she’d always applied to her own life: self-improvement. What woman doesn’t want a better relationship? Better sex? Better hair? A better job? A better wardrobe? A better body? Cosmo was the original self-help manual, decades before the genre would spawn Mars & Venus and Dr Phil. Unlike some of the more radical branches of feminism in the sixties and seventies, The Cosmo girl as created by Helen, saw no conflict between loving men and being ambitious. She wanted to please men and herself. Deep-cleavage feminism, some called it. The formula worked.  Helen’s Cosmopolitan would go on to become the most successful magazine in the world, selling millions of copies a month in 100 countries. It still holds that title today.” 
- Mia Freedman.

By 1997 the world that she had helped shape had moved on and passed her.  She no longer fit in, her views in many women’s areas were conservative or just plain wrong (for instance, arguing in 1988 that straight women could not contract AIDS).  In 1997 she was ousted as editor of Cosmopolitan US but remained international editor of the 59 international editions of Cosmo until her death.

On the announcement of her death, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, said simply 

"Today New York City lost a pioneer who reshaped not only the entire media industry, but the nation's culture. She was a role model for the millions of women whose private thoughts, wonders and dreams she addressed so brilliantly in print.”

Some Helen Gurley Brown quotes:

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

“Beauty can't amuse you, but brainwork—reading, writing, thinking—can.”

“My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.”

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

“Nearly every glamorous, wealthy, successful career woman you might envy now started out as some kind of schlepp.”

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

“Sex is one of the three best things out there, and I don’t even know what the other two are.”

“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”

“How could any woman not be a feminist? The girl I’m editing for wants to be known for herself. If that’s not a feminist message, I don’t know what is.”

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