Cosmo icon Helen Gurley Brown dies at 90

Hearst | The New York Times
Former Cosmopolitan Editor Helen Gurley Brown died Monday. She was 90. Hearst, which publishes Cosmo, sent out a press release and obituary that shares highlights from Gurley Brown's rich and accomplished life. "Life here will somehow not seem the same without her near-daily arrival at 300 West 57th Street," writes Frank Bennack, Hearst CEO. A recent New York Times Magazine story about Cosmopolitan also noted Brown's ongoing presence at the magazine:

Helen Gurley Brown, or H.G.B. as she’s known in the Cosmo universe, is the patron saint of Cosmopolitan’s sex-centric brand of female empowerment. The author of the then-scandalous self-help book “Sex and the Single Girl” — which advised women on how to better enjoy their jobs, relationships and bodies — Brown re-branded the magazine with her frank, sexy tone in 1965, when most women’s magazines were focused on family and home economics. She remained editor until 1997 and is still listed as editor in chief for Cosmopolitan International on all mastheads.

At 90, Brown maintains a delightfully incongruous pink corner office in the gleaming Hearst Tower on 57th Street in Manhattan. And although somewhat retired, she remains something of a spiritual godmother for the dozens of international editors trying to implement her ideas in their own countries.

“ ‘Sex and the Single Girl’ is still the G.P.S. to being W.O.W. — a well-turned-out woman!” explained the editor of Cosmo South Africa, Sbu Mpungose. As has been the case with other newer Cosmos, the first issue of Cosmo Azerbaijan, in 2011, included a feature on Brown: “It was absolutely necessary for girls in our country to know who she is,” the magazine’s editor, Leyla Orujova, explained.

At the beginning of this year, Gurley Brown donated $30 million to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Stanford and Columbia universities. At the time of the gift, Gurley Brown said "It’s time for two great American institutions on the East and West Coasts to build a bridge.”

This Los Angeles Times piece about that gift hosts a marvelous photo of Gurley Brown and her husband David Brown, who died two years ago. "During their marriage," Hearst CEO Bennack writes, "Brown was a partner behind many of Gurley Brown’s projects, even writing Cosmo cover lines. It was he who persuaded her to write a book about her life as a single woman. The result, Sex and the Single Girl (1962), took the nation -- and then globe -- by storm."

Some famous Gurley Brown quotes:

  • “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”
  • “Beauty can't amuse you, but brainwork -- reading, writing, thinking -- can.”
  • “Nearly every glamorous, wealthy, successful career woman you might envy now started out as some kind of schlep.”
  • “I hope I have convinced you, the only thing that separates successful people from the ones who aren't is the willingness to work very, very hard.”
  • “After you're older, two things are possibly more important than any others: health and money.”

In a Q&A published in Vanity Fair in 2007, Gurley Brown was asked what word she overused. "I address everybody as 'pussycat,'" she said, "but nobody minds, and it's a nice term of endearment."

Hearst is accepting donations to the Pussycat Foundation, Joe Pompeo reports, to further fund Gurley Brown's media institute.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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