As a kid growing up in rural Minnesota, I remember watching Helen Gurley Brown on "The Tonight Show." An insomniac, I'd probably tossed and turned for a long time before finally slipping out of bed and padding down the hall to find my mother sitting in our darkened living room. A poor sleeper herself, mom would be drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette.
The program was still in black and white and Johnny might be in the middle of his monologue, a skit or even "stump the band." Commercials would follow and next there would be the parade of guests -- first in the chair and then moving to the couch. I'd curl up on our own couch and get ready to enjoy the show.
Witty, trendy and impossibly thin, Helen Gurley Brown was one of Johnny's favorites. She appeared many times over the years and always said something that made Johnny laugh and often something that shocked him a little. Totally at ease, she spoke casually about New York nightlife, single women, fashion, gossip and sex.
I was mesmerized.
She had written that famous book that I'd heard about and wanted to read, "Sex and the Single Girl." I remember telling some of my grade school friends about it and feeling very brazen saying that word. Sex.
Almost a decade would go by before I got my hands on a copy and learned (to my dismay) it wasn't a how-to manual with pictures, but a more highly sophisticated book about the sexual revolution, feminism and women having it all. I was also surprised the author's name wasn't spelled the way I thought it was.
It was not, Helen Girly Brown.
When I found out Girly was actually Gurley, I was taken aback and perplexed. How could I have gone years and years and never known this? I'd felt an affinity for this woman who could appear so relaxed and so at comfortable in her own skin. Her nickname, "girly," made her relatable. Even a kid from the sticks could identify with a grown woman who wanted it all and yet be girly at the same time.
As I grew older, I subscribed to "Cosmopolitan" magazine, and I got to know Helen Gurley Brown as a writer, editor and groundbreaker. She was someone who saw what might be, and then strived to convey those ideas and possibilities to her readers. I wouldn't say I was ever a real "Cosmo Girl," but I liked a lot of her message.
I indeed wanted it all, and she made it alright to be female and yet strive for everything on my list -- the career, family, travel, relationships, books, music, clothes, and so much more.
Helen Girly Brown. Thank you. You made your mark and I will miss you.
Helen Gurley Brown attends Friar's Club Tribute Gala Honoring Barbara Walters on May 7, 1994 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Credit: Ron Gallela, WireImage / Getty Images
David Morgan and Helen Gurley Brown attend 50th Birthday Party for Donald Trump on June 13, 1996 at Trump Towers in New York City. Credit: Ron Gallela, WireImage / Getty Images
David Brown and Helen Gurley Brown attend Literacy Partners Evening of Readings Benefit Gala on May 5, 1997 at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater in New York City. Credit: Ron Gallela, Getty Images
Helen Gurley Brown in 2001. Credit: Jim Spellman, WireImage / Getty Images
Helen Gurley Brown during Lincoln Center Spring Gala honoring Former Chairman Beverly Sills in 2003. Credit: Robin Platzer, FilmMagic / Getty Images
Helen Gurley Brown during Cosmopolitan's 40th Birthday Bash - Arrivals and Inside at Skylight Studio in New York City, New York, United States. Credit: Gregory Pace, FilmMagic / Getty Images
Helen Gurly Brown, former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and David Brown, Producer. Credit: Catrina Geovese, WireImage / Getty Images
Former Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown, arrives at the 2002 National Magazine Awards May 1, 2002 in New York City. Credit: Mario Tama, Getty Images
Helen Gurley Brown during Sotheby's Hosts FRANCESCO SCAVULLO: A Photographic Retrospective and Auction to Benefit Fountain House at Sotheby's in New York City, New York, April 5, 2006. Credit: Jemal Countess, WireImage / Getty Images
Helen Gurley Brown attends the 27th annual Evening of Readings Pre-Gala kick-off at Michael's Restaurant on March 14, 2011 in New York City. Credit: John Lamparski, Getty Images
Follow Nancy Wurtzel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@nancywurtzel