Horror that was Helen Gurley Brown

I was introduced to Helen Gurley Brown and Sex and the Single Girl when I started work in Kuala Lumpur in another life-time. Till then, I had never heard of her. I wasn’t terribly impressed. nor with all the other OTT stuff that’s her signature tune! Give me Nora Ephron any day. She was the queen of wry where I’m concerned and two of her books I re-read all the time are I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing.

Reproduced below is a recollection about Helen Gurley Brown from the New York Times. Double-confirming why Goo-goo ain’t my cup of tea or coffee. 🙄

August 14, 2012

Googoo and the Pussycat

By JAMIE BRICKHOUSE

I CALLED her Googoo. She called me Pussycat.

She called everyone Pussycat — pronouncing it “pushycat” — but when she said to me at our first lunch, “I made Hearst millions of dollars, Pussycat — millions,” she made me feel as if I was the only pussycat in her life. I can still hear her voice with its italicized inflections and underlined emphases, which sounded just like the letters she dashed off daily on Cosmopolitan International letterhead in place of the ephemeral e-mails she never sent.

I was the publicist for Helen Gurley Brown’s book “I’m Wild Again: Snippets From My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts,” which was published in 2000, a few years after she and her Ferragamo heels stepped down as editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine. Hearst hadn’t completely let her go. (Or was it the other way around?) It made her the face of Cosmopolitan’s international editions to enlighten orgasmically impoverished women across the globe. She began foreign editions of the magazine in places like Serbia, Uganda and Vietnam. As she said in one of her many mash notes to me, “Off to Korea tomorrow to start Cosmo there — why not?”

At 78, she was even more famous for her obsession with youth and maintaining a perfectly flat tummy than for helping women “have it all” — the career, the man and orgasmic Nirvana. After she picked at her salad with her hands, we talked about the publicity campaign for the Post-it-stuffed book that lay on the table, and the words of wisdom she might impart about aging.

“Pussycat, when people ask me what I like about aging, I say ‘Nothing! There ain’t nothing good about it!’ ”

Work was the only answer for her, a career girl to the end.

“People have told me to get a house in the Hamptons, take a vacation, but it’s too late. I like working too much. To stop working would be to die!”

Googoo was thoroughly modern, but not contemporary when it came to e-mail. Letters — typed or handwritten — were her preferred way of communicating. I used to salivate when my assistant placed a Cosmopolitan International letter on my desk. I’d drop any poorly worded e-mail to savor one of her letters.

“Isn’t that wild … we were both in London about the same week.”

“Thanks for calling in from Out There… I’m fascinated with your professional chores and want you to tell me some time how you go about teaching what you do … I think it’s in the genes.”

“The birthday flowers are simply lovely … big white lilies, lush red tulips — some of them not yet open so they can go on being frisky and pleasing for lots of days to come.”

Imagine a two-page review in the New York Times… wow, wow, WOW! I miss you but no way you aren’t still in my life.”

Along with “love,” she’d often sign off, “bestest,” or “bestest always.”

Her style of communicating oozed goo, so when I stumbled on the Gurley in her name and “Googoo” came out instead, the moniker stuck. A fan of made-up words and adjectives, she didn’t seem to mind the name. I hijacked her style, “Googoo-ese,” when writing to friends in the know. I even sent her a thank-you note in Googoo-ese, which she loved.

Occasionally, we met in her office on the ground floor of the then-towerless Hearst Building. I drank in every tiny little detail of her office, which was wrapped in pink silk walls: the leopard-print rug, a floral chintz sofa, some throw pillows with bumper-sticker advice in needlepoint (“Women are like wine. They get better with age”; “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.”) and an olive green typewriter.

During those “Wild Again” days Googoo and I got intimate — not frisky, just close. One day began with an early morning drive to a breakfast event as I sat next to her while she removed her curlers, which she placed in her quilted Chanel purse. One curler had left a hole in the back of her wispy hair.

“Googoo, you missed a spot back there.” She slowly turned and offered me her brush with a reptilian gaze. I stared at the brush and then her.

“Pussycat, do you mind?” I covered the hole.

The day ended 14 hours later at an Upper East Side book party. Her follow-up note thanking me for the photo of us at the party recapped the day.

“That was a busy day that day but I think you held up super well. Maybe I will start drinking gimlets … is that a gimlet?”

No one seemed to care that Googoo was “wild again.” The book didn’t sell. I moved on to other books and other jobs and Googoo remained at Hearst, but we kept in touch. I lived a block from the apartment that she shared with her husband, David, and she gave me a ride to work in her Hearst Mercedes when the subway was shut down during those post-9/11 anthrax scares.

She sent a thank-you note for my thank-you note:

You can hit us for a ride any time … keeps me from being bored beyond reason … plus you are spiffy-looking so it’s nice to have people see you in the car. Quite seriously, you can do this anytime. … This is a bona fide offer… Nice to have you in our life … We’ll look forward to the next “hitch-hike.”

I never hitched another ride. When David died two years ago, I sent her a condolence letter — sincere — but written in Googoo-ese.

I was disappointed when I received her note thanking me for my letter. It was handwritten, but the message was generic, devoid of her signature underlines and exclamation points. It did move me to make what would be our last lunch date. Despite the rumor that her mind was slipping, she kept going to her office in the Hearst Tower, now a gleaming new skyscraper. It was perhaps the most exclusive assisted living facility in Manhattan.

Tucked away in a corner on the 37th floor was the office I remembered from below — the chintz sofa, the needlepoint pillows, the typewriter, the leopard-print rug — reinstalled as if it were a period room in a museum. Only three pink walls remained. The fourth wall was a sheet of glass, exposing Googoo like a figurine in a dollhouse.

She sat waiting for me at her desk, wearing a pink sweater set and leopard-print Ferragamo pumps, a copy of her 10-year-old, Post-it-filled copy of “I’m Wild Again” sitting on the desk. I brought her a gift, a book of condolence letters written to Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“I thought you might appreciate this since you’re such a marvelous letter writer. You know, the art of letter writing is almost dead, now that everyone communicates by e-mail.”

“What’s e-mail?”

For the rest of our lunch date she moved in and out of the shadows of lucidity. Did she even know who I was? When it was time for me to leave, she opened her Chanel bag, pulled out a letter and asked me to write my name and number on it.

“Googoo, this is the condolence letter I sent you.”

“I know, Pussycat. And it’s such a beautiful letter. I keep it with me.”

Dear Helen:

My heart goes out to you for your deep loss … Some of my fondest memories of my career are working with you and publicizing “I’m Wild Again.” I miss the daily calls and your promise (when you couldn’t talk) to call me back in “two and one-half minutes.” You always kept your word.

Kiss, kiss, Jamie

Jamie Brickhouse is at work on a memoir and recently founded RedBrick Agency, a speakers’ bureau.

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One thought on “Horror that was Helen Gurley Brown

  1. Those were the days where girls wrote to agony aunt paik choo asking if holding hands with their boyfriend would make them pregnant, and her answer, received no doubt in good faith, would be, “Not if you wore gloves.”

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