Inspiration and Editors

‘Gurley was girly’ By Annette Stevens

Inspiration and editors…

To make my posts a bit more interesting, I decided to profile some editors here; whether alive, deceased, fish or dog. I’ll be looking at what makes them a good editor. In this post, it’s the life and times of Helen Gurley Brown. I know that Amy has already posted about her a while back (click here to see), but I wanted to delve a little deeper in to her life. She died a little over a year ago.


Helen was born in Green Forest, Arkansas, on the 18th February 1922, as Helen Marie Brown. Her family was extremely poor; at the age of ten, her father died in an elevator accident. He had left no money in his insurance. Later, the remaining family moved, and Helen’s sister, Mary, contracted Polio. The family lost their remaining money  to Mary’s medical bills. Mary never walked again. Helen cut her education, to support her family. Within five years, Helen had become one of the most highly paid copywriters. She remained in her position for a long time.

Her family was extremely poor, at the age of ten, her father died in an elevator accident.

In 1959, age thirty seven, she married David Brown. He would go on to produce/co-produce films, most notably Jaws.


This would unite a team, dedicated to getting Helen into publishing. In 1962, at the age of forty, her book, Sex and the single girl, was published. Her husband is said to have suggested the title. The book featured a rather taboo subject; this allowed the book to become a bestseller in more than twenty eight countries, for more than a year. In 1964 came the film. Whilst pitching La Femme magazine to Hearst publishing, it was decided that Helen should edit US Cosmopolitan magazine. This was a start of a thirty two year venture for Helen Gurley Brown. Cosmo was one year from being shut down, and Gurley-Brown revived it, making it one of the most successful publications at the time.

Cosmo was one year from being shut down, and Gurley-Brown revived it.

Helen set out her intentions in her first editorial, “Step into my parlour”.


As well as Editing Cosmo, Gurley brown also wrote a string of bestselling novels.

Helen managed to turn the publications trend of high cultured content around, and taught women they were entitled to “having it all”. The publication often contained tips from the editor, mainly surrounding etiquette. Some editorials were like “Why Plain Jane’s get ahead”, “How to lose those last five pounds” etc. For thirty two years, she remained editor in chief of US Cosmopolitan.

According to everyone who knew her, “Gurley was girly”. Her Manhattan office was decorated with pink walls, and was heavily accented with animal print. She created the Cosmopolitan brand in image of herself: fashion oriented, career flying, and mad about sex. Women who were like that were referred to as “Cosmo Girls”.

In 1997, she was ousted from her role, and was replaced by Bonnie Fuller. In the year that she left, Cosmo was at the sixth position on the newsstand, and first in bookstores. This was the sixteenth year running.

After this, she became the international editor for all fifty nine editions.

Helen Gurley Brown died on the 13th August, 2012. She will be remembered by the Cosmo family, for being the mother of publishing.  UK Cosmo editor, Louise Court, fondly remembers how Helen refereed to her as “Pussycat”.

Helen has been credited with creating several things: so I thought I could create my own list:

Helen Gurley Brown created:

+ The phrase “Having it all”.

+Sex talk for women

+The Cosmo brand in image of herself.

Next time, I will be looking at Anna Wintour.


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