Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan magazine’s landmark editor who brought sex into the forefront of women’s magazines, died on Monday, August 14, 2012, at the age of 90. She passed away at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia after a brief hospitalization, though reports have her working at her desk at Hearst Publications up until she fell ill.
“Helen Gurley Brown was an icon. Her formula for honest and straightforward advice about relationships, career and beauty revolutionized the magazine industry,” stated Frank A. Bennack, Jr., CEO of Hearst Corporation. “She lived every day of her life to the fullest and will always be remembered as the quintessential ‘Cosmo Girl.’ She will be greatly missed.”
Ms. Brown took over the helm of Cosmopolitan in 1965 as editor-in-chief following the successful publication of her book, Sex and the Single Girl, in 1962. Based on her life as a single woman, Sex and the Single Girl dared to encourage woman to enjoy the single life including sexual affairs with men. In 1964, the book was made into a movie that starred Natalie Wood.
Under her direction, Cosmopolitan became the bible for single woman, supporting the search for “Mr. Right” but giving woman license to not settle for just anyone and to enjoy the search – including sexual dalliances, hints for which regularly appeared in the magazine’s headlines. Her inaugural cover proclaimed, “World’s Greatest Lover – What it was like to be wooed by him!” The approach was controversial, and Ms. Brown was often criticized by feminists for the importance she placed on finding the right man. However, under her guidance, Cosmopolitan grew from just 800,000 readers to circulation of 3 million at its height in the 1980s. Helen Gurley Brown remained Cosmo’s tireless editor-in-chief until 1997, at which time she became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan’s international editions.
While her single life philosophy was based on her own experience, Ms. Gurley Brown followed her own advice and married the right man. In 1959, at the age of 37, she married David Brown, a film executive, who produced hits like Jaws, The Sting and The Verdict. Mr. Brown is credited with writing many of Cosmo’s cover lines, and also encouraging his wife to write Sex and the Single Girl. He died in 2010.
Ms. Brown’s career at Cosmopolitan spanned nearly five decades. During that time she wrote five additional books, including The Late Show, A Semi-Wild but Practical Guide for Women Over 50.