The last time I lunched with Helen Gurley Brown at Michael's, her skirt was still shorter than mine, and yet she was almost 90. I also remember her saying that she would always be 27, and that's something I mentally inherited from her, so my skirts will always be age inappropriate if you count in real years. The very sad news about her death was told to me just as I was writing a piece about men for a magazine. Of course I was quoting Helen because her words live large in my head and heart.
Helen was one of two mentors who changed my life -- Mayor Mike Bloomberg was the other. A strange combo? Not really -- one taught me about money and the other about men, and by the way, Helen flirted with Mike, and he loved it. What man doesn't?
I joined Cosmo as a senior editor in 1991 and entered the Disneyland of magazine jobs. My mother always says that Helen changed my life. I'd been widowed at 37, gone back to work more than full time in television until one day HGB discovered me at Fox and invited me to join her staff. I was going to be her poster child -- the mouseburger who became a Cosmo girl, and she was on my side. You have no idea how good that felt.
There wasn't a staff member who didn't adore her, and while we did question some of her stands on relevant issues, her take on them was always with a twist. Because of my television background, she knew enough to ask me to do some of the tougher talk shows, on subjects where her judgment might be questioned -- date rape, AIDS, silicone implants. There was always her side to the story too, and try as she would, she just didn't understand why a guy wouldn't take no for an answer....but we pitched in to help out in those sticky times.
Helen loved men and she made me love and like them too; she taught us how to get one IF we wanted one. I learned to soften the tough side of me; the art of flirting, deflecting sexual harassing comments with humor, exercising -- which she did every day with her little dumb bells, and listening without passing judgment. Fun had come back into my life thanks to her.
I loved her visits to my office when she would sit and make me feel I was her oxygen for the day, so mesmerizing was she as a listener (HGB always said men wanted two things: a great lover and a great listener). She loved my stories about encountering the then presidential nominee Bill Clinton in my apartment lobby and flirting with him and encouraged me to find a nice rich man who could take care for me. She set me up on dates, sent me to her psychiatrist when I was dating a married man and stuck by her mantra -- "never fall in love with a married man" -- even when I told her this one was different and he would marry me. Of course he didn't.
Using Cosmopolitan as her medium, Helen gave women the same sexual freedom men had and taught us to enjoy it and make it fun. She has been acknowledged as one of the greatest editors in the business, and what she taught us about writing and editing was a gift -- someone ought to check out how long her editors stayed with her out of huge love, devotion and awe. Each one of us became a Cosmo girl, and I never saw a downside. Unlike sisterhood wars, Helen made us friends, not competitors.
Helen changed my life as she did millions of other girls' lives. Who cares about the incidental boo boos along the way? You'll never find a Cosmo girl who hasn't learned to get what she wants using a few tricks learned between the pages of her bible.
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