Helen Gurley Brown

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With her book, Sex and the Single Girl, Helen Gurley Brown took sex out of the closet. By advocating the right of sex for single women, or girls, as she called them, she promoted the sexual revolution.…
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With her book, Sex and the Single Girl, Helen Gurley Brown took sex out of the closet. By advocating the right of sex for single women, or girls, as she called them, she promoted the sexual revolution. Some people believe her book fired the revolution's first salvo, so far-reaching was its influence.

When Sex and the Single Girl hit bookstores in 1962, copies rocketed off shelves and put Brown firmly on best-seller lists. She followed her publishing success in 1963 with a similarly themed recording for GNP, Lessons in Love. Natalie Wood starred in a movie based on the book in 1964. The following year, Brown stepped into the position of editor in chief at Cosmopolitan magazine, where she remained until 1996. That year, she switched jobs to become the magazine's international editor in chief.

In 1972, under Brown's daring leadership, the magazine published the first nude centerfold for women, featuring Burt Reynolds, and in subsequent months similar photo spreads of Jim Brown and John Davidson followed. She turned sales around for the publication by making Cosmopolitan's articles more provocative than they had ever been before, and she herself became a celebrity.

The influential editorship was a long way from her hometown of Green Forest, AR, in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. Cleo and Ira Gurley, Brown's parents, taught school during Brown's early years. When her dad switched jobs, Brown's mother stopped working to devote herself full-time to her children. Her father died when Brown was ten, and her unemployed mother packed up her two daughters and settled in Los Angles.

The Depression-era family didn't have enough funds to send Brown to college, despite an academic track record that made the future editor her senior class valedictorian. Instead, she took a typing course and eventually started a job that paid seven dollars weekly. Her meager salary went to support her small family. By that time, Brown's sister had contracted polio.

In 1948, she worked at Foot, Cone, and Belding, a highly successful advertising agency, where she worked as chairman Don Belding's personal secretary. Belding later promoted her to copywriter, a position in which she excelled. A firmly established executive in 1959, she wed film producer David Brown, who has been affiliated with such hits as Jaws, Driving Miss Daisy, and The Sting. One of his suggestions led her to write her 1962 bestseller.

Brown has written several other books, among them Sex and the New Single Girl, Sex and the Office, Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook, and Having It All. The Publisher's Hall of Fame inducted her into its ranks in 1988.