Clipped From The Guardian
ffeb Qurlcy Brown KJW ff'! I I Tit iron butterfly Helen Gurley Bvown talks to Catherine Stett " TIHERE are girls who read ' Cosmo-politan Cosmo-politan Cosmo-politan ' and enjoy it as voyeurs. They don't want to be that driven, to have that many affairs ; they don't want more than one man or one dress at a time. They don't care about jewellery and they don't want a sable coat or Paris for the weekend. They don't want to work as hard as I do. But my girl wants it She is on the make. Her nose is pressed to the glass and she does get my message. These girls are like my children all over the country. Oh, I have so much advice ' for them and it's fun." - Helen Gurley Brown was talking about the readers of the magazine magazine she edits with a stamp as personal as and not dissimilar from Hugh , Hefner's on '" Playboy." It was Helen Gurley Brown who wrote the Ehenomenally successful " Sex and the ingle Girl," sold the title for $200,000 to a film "company, and then began broadcasting its message for all it was worth through the columns of a moribund 79-year-old 79-year-old 79-year-old 79-year-old 79-year-old magazine which Hearst Publications asked her to edit three years ago. A success When she began it waB selling 650,000 copies. Now they are hitting the million mark and advertising has quadrupled ; an unparalleled success with Madison Avenue. And all because this small, frail-looking frail-looking frail-looking woman they call the "iron butterfly" has an uncanny eye for what women want, knows how to give It to them, edits every word herself, and spends ten hours' a day and several hours a night working on it. In a deceptively gentle voice she will explain to the listener that her success was motivated by fear not ambition. That she had a sad little childhood and a terrible growing-up. growing-up. growing-up. Although her simple little dress probably cost $100 a stitch and her jewellery may well come from Tiffany's, she looks as if afraid that it may all be taken away ; that she will be planted back in the Ozarks, a fatherless 11-year-old 11-year-old 11-year-old 11-year-old 11-year-old girl with acute acne giving dancing lessons to the other kids at 25 cents an hour to help make ends meet. Her philosophy is one of self-betterment, self-betterment, self-betterment, extremely subjective, virtually autobiographical. She thinks of herself very much as " a girl who had very little going for her. As far back as I can remember I thought I was physically barely adequate ... in the 1940s bosoms were the big things ; legs didn't matter. ... If you were small-breasted small-breasted small-breasted it was bad luck. Then I didn't have money going for me . . nor an outrageously wonderful personality and I didn't go to college. I was a terribly average girl who inherited enough of a brain to do a few things. Being stupid is the worst thing that can happen to a girl, much worse than being ugly." Talking to Helen Gurley Brown in her Manhattan office is very much like reading her magazine ; she" explains her life in terms of what other people could achieve in the same way. . , . " I always say that anyone can do what I've done not that it's all that much but you can have a great career, make money, and have some fabulous men in your life and you don't have to be sensational to start with because I certainly wasn't." She was the classic American dream girl who capitalised on what she had and finds it fun to watch others doing so. It always charms her to see a girl who doesn't look like very much "coming on very sexy and maybe a little bitchy but very attractive to men. My way would be to come on dynamic on the inside. To have something that gleams and burns inside you." What makes Helen burn ? " I think you get it because you feel deprived. You want to be more pretty, more of everything, more loved perhaps. 1 wasn't ambitious when young, only frightened. I just got very' scared during the Depression. Fear led me to do the best I could at everything. At school I was competitive in a very quiet, deadly way. " I had to work the minute 1 got out of high school and all I could do was shorthand-typing. shorthand-typing. shorthand-typing. I didn't think I should have been doing something better, only ' if I get fired we'll all go down the drain.' I was a secretary for 15 years but always getting better until at 33 1 was a whizz-bang whizz-bang whizz-bang executive secretary who got a whack at writing advertising copy." (She wrote sexy, girlish copy for seven years and was the highest-paid highest-paid highest-paid woman in advertising in California. But the last agency she was with stopped giving her assignments, assignments, having stolen her from another for a vast sum, so she asked her husband, David Brown, who is vice-president vice-president vice-president of Twentieth Century-Fox, Century-Fox, Century-Fox, what she could write a book about.) " He said I should write for the single girl. He said ' When I first met you, you were a kind of a swinger but you were also a solid citizen. You were very respectable with lots of friends and dates and parties.' So I wrote it and it sold millions." She says it wasn't that good a book a sweet nice book on an idea whose time had come, about single girls having a good life. " Single girls had been sleeping with men for a long time, quietly and without' being run out of town. But secretively. Well, along I came with my little book and said that single girls did have a great, sex life and were often much happier ' in bed than they ever would be as married women because they had more choice and variety and didn't I have to stay with a man they didn't like. " Mostly the message was ' don't worry and feel guilty if you are having an affair because so is everyone else. ... A sisterly book by a girl who was doing it herself who seemed to understand how it was for others. Like a nice letter from home.' More than this, 'Sex and the Single Girl' actually conferred a new respectability on spinsterhood, making it appear glamorous." She believes every girl has one thing she can do really well and must find it if she wants to succeed," and I have made this one exquisite little talent for writing sincerely in short sharp sentences into quite a thing." She doesn't necessarily approve of women waiting as long as she did to marry (she was 37). "I would think anyone who doesn't marry until 37 is quite neurotic. My neurotic drive towards work and success is perhaps a healthy one. The other neurosis was a bad one in that the men who wanted to marry me I didn't want to marry "and- "and- vice versa. '' " I talk a great deal about success and you'll notice the word love has hardly entered this conversation. One is always criticised for that. Well, I adore my husband and I was in love with him when we married and there's not much point in going on about it.' I don't say I wanted to marry a successful successful man just I never would have married anyone who wasn't successful, end that's not the nicest thing you ever heard either, is it ? But if I'm going to work like a bunny rabbit I don't want a passive man, but my kind. "Suddenly, when I was 40, I fell Into a glamorous life. . . . And I had earned it. And I've had some 'influence on other women. I work much too hard. But tomorrow we're going to Paris for a movie premiere and, weh, I like our life. I sound like a little girl from the Ozarks but I'm glad at 46 that tnings seem like fun and games to me. My forties have been my best years and I keep pounding the message home to my readers."