A revolutionary writer, Helen Gurley Brown helped change the face of modern feminism with the publication of her 1962 global smash Sex and the Single Girl, which became a popular Hollywood film. Married to Oscar-nominated producer David Brown, she achieved iconic status as the editor of Cosmopolitan, who turned the once housewifely publication into a clarion call for independent, sexually adventurous women who would dub themselves "Cosmo Girls." Although some feminists rankled at Brown's stringent and sometimes contradictory advice for women, she helped change attitudes and opinions towards women's roles, and her influence could be felt decades later with such projects as "Sex and the City" (HBO, TK). Although she ceased to be editor-in-chief in 1997, Brown remained with the magazine for the remainder of her life before dying on Aug. 13, 2012. A controversial but much beloved legend, Helen Gurley Brown meant a lot of different things to different people, but her legacy proved a feminist torch that lit the lights of many others.
Born Feb. 18, 1922 in Green Forest, AR, Helen Marie Gurley moved with her widowed mother and polio-stricken sister to Los Angeles, where she graduated high school and worked to support her family. Although her mother and sister moved back east, she stayed in Los Angeles and landed a job as a secretary at an advertising agency, where her writing ability, ambition and wit helped her transition into copywriting. Achieving exceptional success as a copywriter, she married David Brown, who would go on to become a legendary film producer, and who encouraged her to pursue her writing further. After the publication of her 1962 bestseller Sex and the Single Girl electrified the world, Brown saw her work turned into a 1964 feature film, while also landing the plumb role of editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Championing women's rights, the sexual revolution and self-empowerment, Brown became one of the leading forces in American feminism, although many found her sex-focused, man-pleasing philosophy retrograde and stifling. Developing a near-mythical reputation as both a powerful force for and against modern feminism, Brown nevertheless turned Cosmopolitan into a wildly successful international brand and ushered in a new era of the independent, fun-loving "Cosmo Girl." Although she was replaced as editor in 1997, Brown remained the international editor for the publication for the rest of her life, before dying on Aug. 13, 2012. Forever an icon, Brown was memorialized by millions, including outspoken fan Lena Dunham, who tweeted, "RIP Helen Gurley Brown, you beautiful enigma. Confused but wholehearted love from mouseburgers & feminists everywhere."
By Jonathan Riggs