The other day as I was idling in the grocery store checkout line, I picked up a copy of Cosmopolitan Magazine prominently displayed with other magazines, chocolate bars and breath mints tempting me to make an impulse purchase. There was a time in the late sixties and early seventies when I would have never missed buying an issue of Cosmo. I remember once in 1968 all the girls in my office at Bell Telephone being outraged when Cosmo didn’t print for a couple of months because of some strike in the United States.
Boomer Broads will remember how Cosmo was our bible of reference material on how we should be living our lives. We were all familiar with and dutifully completed each month’s Cosmo quiz to determine if we were sexy-smart, financially stupid or whatever the issue of the month was. We loved the articles, the fashion, the book reviews and the advice but we particularly loved and admired Helen Gurley Brown (HGB) who referred to us as her Pussycats.
Helen Gurley Brown was the personification of everything we could be. She came from a poor family in Arkansas and from an early age was responsible for supporting her wheelchair-bound sister and chronically depressed mother. HGB started work right out of high school and worked at a series of low level secretarial jobs. Over the years she increased her skill-level and competency in business to eventually take over and turn around Cosmopolitan magazine making it every working girl’s touchstone and a cultural icon.
HGB was sometimes criticized for what people thought was her anti-feminist position because she advocated women pleasing men. She was certainly off the mark on some issues but she promoted and glorified power and choice for women. At a time when women were encouraged to remain virgins until marriage (this was the fifties and early sixties), HGB advocated that women also be allowed to enjoy the same kind of sexual freedom as men. Her book Sex and the Single Girl was de rigeur reading for any twenty-something Cosmo girl and was chock full of tips and advice on how to get the most out of life. I didn’t agree with her putting career ahead of everything else, but she was right about women being financially independent and asserting themselves in whatever they chose to do in life.
The Cosmopolitan Magazine I picked up the other day would not make Helen Gurley Brown proud. Its garish purple cover was cheesey and the cover model looked just plain slutty. Thumbing quickly through the pages, I was not impressed with the layouts, the articles or anything about the magazine. While the basic layout of the cover resembled HGB’s original plan with its single young woman and tantalizing headlines designed to pull us in, none of this was accomplished with the degree of artistic taste and fun inherent in Cosmo’s earlier incarnation. Forty years ago, the cover girls were also young and sexy but they were also classy and the content was informative and avante-guarde not salacious.
Helen Gurley Brown passed away two years ago this week at the age of ninety and I remember feeling somewhat bereft at hearing the news of her death. I used to love watching her being interviewed on talk shows as her opinions were always so controversial. She must be so disappointed in how her baby turned out. I pulled out a copy of The Late Show, her last book published in 1993 the other day just so I could enjoy once again her wisdom and insights. Although much of what she had to say is still valid and her words of advice stand up even today, she was definitely past her best-before date when Canadian Bonnie Fuller took over her job. As for today’s Cosmo, I’m not so sure Helen would be pleased.