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Helen Gurley Brown, author and editrix, dies at 90

August 13, 2012|by Carolyn Kellogg
  • Helen Gurley Brown and her husband, David Brown, in 1979.
Helen Gurley Brown and her husband, David Brown, in 1979. (Los Angeles Times )

Helen Gurley Brown, longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of the classic 1962 book "Sex and the Single Girl," died Monday. She was 90.

Brown joined Cosmopolitan in 1965 and served as its editor for 32 years, giving it its signature pro-sex, love-quiz, headline-popping style. She retired from the magazine in 1997.

In January of this year, just weeks before turning 90, Brown donated $30 million to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the Stanford School of Engineering to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

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Those significant funds didn't come solely from Brown's long and unflagging career in publishing; David Brown was a movie producer whose credits included "Jaws," "Cocoon," "The Verdict," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Chocolat" and "A Few Good Men." David died in 2010.

Brown was born in the Ozarks in Arkansas and raised partly in Los Angeles. She worked as a secretary in L.A. and then, like Peggy in "Mad Men," worked her way up to be an advertising copywriter. She had married David Brown before writing her 1962 bestseller "Sex and the Single Girl," a live-it-up guide to how a modern woman could conveniently manage having an affair with a married man.

Even late in life, Helen Gurley Brown liked to be sexy and somewhat shocking. While promoting her book "I'm Wild Again: Snippets From My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts," she told one reporter that she and her husband -- ages 73 and 80, respectively -- had enjoyed sex the night before.

Brown's reputation as author and editor shifted over time, but her exuberant, sex-positive work is now often thought of as feminist and even radical.

Stay tuned for our full obituary.

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