Helen Gurley Brown: The Original Carrie Bradshaw
By DWIGHT GARNER writing in The New York Times
Published: April 21, 2009
Helen Gurley Brown, the author of “Sex and the Single Girl” (1962) and for three decades the editor of Cosmopolitan, was born in Green Forest, Ark., a tiny town in the Ozark Mountains. Her father died when she was 10; her sister had polio; her family was “hillbilly,” she wrote, and poor. Once she got out, she looked back only by force of will. She liked to quote a line from Carson McCullers: “I must go home periodically to renew my sense of horror.”
Photo courtesy of Helen Gurley Brown
Helen Gurley Brown in the art department at Cosmopolitan, shortly after she took over as editor of the magazine in 1965.
BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE
The Life of Helen Gurley Brown
By Jennifer Scanlon
Illustrated. 270 pages. Oxford University Press. $27.95.
Ms. Brown’s background lighted a kind of fire beneath her; it allowed her to speak effortlessly, later in her life, to the fears and aspirations of America’s often ignored working-class women. She would write, defining her scrappy brand of Horatio Alger feminism: “If you have some daily anguish from some cause that’s not really your fault — a rotten family, bad health, nowhere looks, serious money problems, nobody to help you, minority background (I don’t have that — a WASP — but I had other things), rejoice! These things are your fuel!”
In her entertaining new biography of Ms. Brown, “Bad Girls Go Everywhere,” Jennifer Scanlon, a professor of gender and women’s studies at Bowdoin College, charts her subject’s rocketlike rise out of the Ozarks. She also argues, convincingly, for Ms. Brown as a feisty, pivotal and too easily dismissed pioneer of the American women’s movement, one who dismayed more serious feminists with her breezy tone, her refusal to see men as the enemy and her belief that sex is not only great fun but also a “powerful weapon” for single women.Ms. Brown belongs alongside figures like Betty Friedan in histories of second-wave feminism (even if Friedan would have squirmed at the idea), Ms. Scanlon writes, and was a precursor of the third-wave, “Sex and the City” feminism. Born in 1922, Helen Gurley Brown escaped Arkansas when her mother moved the family, briefly, to Los Angeles. Never a great beauty, Ms. Brown developed a presence, Ms. Scanlon writes. “She eventually came to realize that success and power produced their own beauty.” She was popular and valedictorian of her high school senior class.