NEW YORK >> It was not the kind of advice women were used to hearing:
— Make a list of the men in your life and arrange them in categories: “The Eligibles,” ”The Eligibles-But-Who-Needs-Them,” ”The Don Juans,” ”The Divorcing Man.”
— “Marriage is insurance for the worst years of your life.” Save the “best” for when you’re single.
— “Travel on boats is strictly B.Y.O.M (Bring Your Own Man).”
— And forget about church. “Spiritual benefits,” yes. Prospects for bed, unlikely.
The sexual revolution, Helen Gurley Brown declared 50 years ago, was no longer just for men.
Brown, the longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and an author who encouraged women not to save it for the wedding night, died Monday at a hospital in New York after a brief hospitalization, Hearst CEO Frank A. Bennack Jr. said in a statement. She was 90.
“Sex and the Single Girl,” her million-selling grab-bag book of advice, opinion and anecdote on why being single shouldn’t mean being sexless, made a celebrity of the 40-year-old advertising copywriter in 1962 and made her a foil for feminists who believed that women’s rights meant more than sleeping around.
Three years later, she was hired by Hearst Magazines to turn around the languishing Cosmopolitan, and it became her playtime pulpit for the next 32 years.
She said at the outset that her aim was to tell a reader “how to get everything out of life — the money, recognition, success, men, prestige, authority, dignity — whatever she is looking at through the glass her nose is pressed against.”
“It was a terrific magazine,” she said, looking back when she surrendered the editorship of the U.S. edition in 1997. “I would want my legacy to be, ‘She created something that helped people.’ My reader, I always felt, was someone who needed to come into her own.”
Along the way, she added to the language such terms as “Cosmo girl” — hip, sexy, vivacious and smart — and “mouseburger,” which she coined first in describing herself as a plain and ordinary woman who must work relentlessly to make herself desirable and successful.
Her motto: “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”
She put big-haired, deep-cleavaged beauties photographed by Francesco Scavullo on the magazine’s cover, behind teaser titles like “Nothing Fails Like Sex-cess — Facts About Our Real Lovemaking Needs.”
Male centerfolds arrived during the 1970s — actor Burt Reynolds’ (modestly) nude pose in 1972 created a sensation — but departed by the ’90s.
Brown and Cosmo were anathema to some feminists, who staged a sit-in at her office. One of them, Kate Millet, said, “The magazine’s reactionary politics were too much to take, especially the man-hunting part. The entire message seemed to be ‘Seduce your boss, then marry him.'”
Another early critic was Betty Friedan, who dismissed the magazine as “immature teenage-level sexual fantasy” but later came around and said Brown, “in her editorship, has been a rather spirited and gutsy example in the revolution of women.”
“Bad Girls Go Everywhere,” the 2009 biography of Brown by Jennifer Scanlon, a women’s studies professor, argued that her message of empowerment made Brown a feminist even if the movement didn’t recognize her as such.
There was no disputing that Brown quickly turned a financial turkey into a songbird.
Within four issues, circulation, which had fallen below the 800,000 readers guaranteed to advertisers, was on the rise, even with the newsstand price increasing from 35 cents to 50 and then 60.
Sales grew every year until peaking at just over 3 million in 1983, then slowly leveled off to 2.5 million at $2.95 a copy, where it was when Brown left in 1997. (She stayed on as editor-in-chief of the magazine’s foreign editions.)