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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Fabulous Feminist
Helen Gurley Brown is a "bad girl" in the very best sense. She built her spectacular career on challenging the status quo, especially for women who had jobs outside the home and were expected to respect the limits of the glass ceiling pressing down on their heads.

Jennifer Scanlon's revealing biography portrays Helen as a pioneer feminist who not only...
Published on April 13, 2009 by Hawley Roddick

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected
Having worked in the magazine industry, I find HGB fascinating. This book, however, wasn't for me. I don't want to take away from the author's accomplishment; judging by the number of end notes, the author read every shred of information saved in HGB's papers. The book reads like a thesis on HGB's contribution to the women's movement and how she was the original Candace...
Published on June 13, 2009 by Allison K.


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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Fabulous Feminist, April 13, 2009
Helen Gurley Brown is a "bad girl" in the very best sense. She built her spectacular career on challenging the status quo, especially for women who had jobs outside the home and were expected to respect the limits of the glass ceiling pressing down on their heads.

Jennifer Scanlon's revealing biography portrays Helen as a pioneer feminist who not only encouraged young women to enjoy themselves in and out of bed but also supported safe and legal abortion, equal pay, and successful careers based on solid achievements.

At the same time, Helen could be controversial. For instance, she was not opposed to single women having affairs with married men who could help their careers. And she had a bit of a fetish about staying ultra-thin. (I know this well because I wrote "The Dieter's Notebook" column for Cosmo for several years.)

Yet because Helen kept her fingers on the pulse of a much larger group of women than did high-profile feminist leaders with less room for men in their lives, she expanded feminism. She was the one helping women to move forward while still enjoying their lovers and husbands as well as their own good looks and their rewarding careers.

Carrie Bradshaw and her friends are at least as much the daughters of Helen Gurley Brown as of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Dare I suggest that so, in important ways, is the chic, lively, accomplished Michele Obama? Read the book and decide for yourself.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected, June 13, 2009
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Having worked in the magazine industry, I find HGB fascinating. This book, however, wasn't for me. I don't want to take away from the author's accomplishment; judging by the number of end notes, the author read every shred of information saved in HGB's papers. The book reads like a thesis on HGB's contribution to the women's movement and how she was the original Candace Bushnell/"Sex in the City" woman. I was hoping for something more about her as a person and magazine legend and how she got from point A to point B.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of research and insight, November 22, 2009
I saw this book sitting on the library shelf and then memories flooded back: the first few issues of Cosmo were so controversial. We'd hear people say, "Nobody in New York reads Cosmo; it's just a fantasy for young women in the boonies." I remember when we had the big discussion about the Cosmo centerfold. Now it's like, "Who cares?"

The book jacket identifies Jennifer Scanlon as a women's studies professor, so it's not surprising to find meticulously referenced details of every aspect of Helen Gurley Brown's life. For ordinary readers, these details will be way too much. I got bogged down in the background of Helen's childhood.

A major premise behind this book is that Helen Gurley Brown deserves attention as part of the history of women, at least in the US. Yet it's hard to see her in the same realm as, say Gloria Steinem. Steinem created her own role in the women's movement; Helen Gurley Brown held a job. The debate between the two now seems quaint and irrelevant. I wasn't even aware that it was going on at the time.

What comes through most is Helen's drive and ambition. She had a true "whatever it takes" attitude, even when the "whatever" croosed the line for many women. In the end, the real story seems less about her contribution to feminism than about how she managed to go from a hardscdrabble Arkansas background to a glittering New York professional career.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book -- 2nd half is better than first, May 25, 2009
I agree with the reviewer who said that much of this reads like a women's studies thesis, and that the first half of the book was hard to get through and a bit dry. (Do we really need yet another summary of Betty Friedan's contributions, and of the sexual repression and double-standard of the 50s that HGB was reacting to?) I would also add that much of the first part of the book was simply a rehash of stuff that HGB said in Sex and the Single Girl -- so I kept saying to myself, "Yeah, yeah, I already know this!", and wondered whether I'd even want to finish it. (HGB has already written so extensively about her life that, in some ways, a bio by someone else is a bit superfluous!) However, the book improved a lot in the second half - after HGB became editor of Cosmo. Ms. Scanlon has a lot of interesting insights about why HGB did so well with Cosmo, the politics of the magazine industry, and other things. The book does suffer from the fact that HGB did not participate in it. But on the whole, a competent and balanced job -- certainly not a "dishing-the-dirt" kind of book.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good writing about a fairly awful subject., April 13, 2009
If I could, I'd give the writing of this book the five stars I did, but give the subject of the book, Helen Gurley Brown, two stars for her very existence. The author wrote an almost scholarly bio of Brown and her very heavy influence on society from the publication of her first book, Sex and the Single Girl in 1962 to her three decade-long editorialship (and redefining of) the magazine Cosmopolitan.

Brown DID have a great influence on post-war American women, "okaying" their position in the workplace, and telling them that it was "okay" to stay single and - gasp - enjoy an active love life. Even with - gasp - married men. The women Brown was writing for were not the ones later aimed at by feminists. These women were the secretaries and other white-collar workers, who maybe didn't attend college and were not aiming for "careers", but rather to get along in life. Betty Friedan - contrasted with Brown - was writing for the college-educated lawyer and doctors-to-be.

Brown's "girls" were urged to take advantage of men, in ways both financial and personal. In many sneaky and underhanded ways, Brown, tells her "girls" to score both money and other material objects from men. And that's what I always felt was dishonest about Helen Gurley Brown. She condoned "girls" sleeping with married men (while pointing out the obvious disadvantages) but I wonder how SHE would have felt had David Brown had affairs?

I can recommend the book for the writing as well as the analysis. I still didn't like Helen Gurley Brown, but I feel I understand her better.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ahead of her time., June 6, 2010
By 
S. Rogers (Boston, MA United States) - See all my reviews
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Before Mary Richards and Ann Marie (of That Girl fame), before Gloria Steinem and Candace Bushnell, there was a different sort of champion for the single girl: Helen Gurley Brown.

You may know her as the long-time editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, but as Jennifer Scanlon recounts in her very entertaining biography of HGB, Bad Girls Go Everywhere, she's also a prolific writer, media maven, and feminist (of sorts) that was way ahead of her time.

I picked up Scanlon's book after reading about it in my college alumni newsletter (Scanlon is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College), thinking it would be a fun, "Summer" read. What surprised me was that it was much more academic in nature - providing fascinating insights into both gender roles, the media landscape, and pop culture in the 1960s - but still eminently readable, like one of Carrie Bradshaw's columns.

What I found so interesting:

The paperback wasn't introduced until 1939. Before that, few people owned books, as hard covers were too expensive. The paperback democratized reading in America! I'm now interested to read another book Scanlon cites in her notes, Two Bit Culture: the Paperbacking of America.

Helen Gurley came from humble beginnings in Arkansas, which taught her to live frugally and use her - ahem - feminine wiles to get what she wanted in life. She was (and is) a huge advocate for working, independent women.

She spent years as a secretary (one of the few professional roles available to women in the 1950s) before her employer at ad shop Foote Cone Belding noticed her writing skills an made her an advertising copywriter.

She played the field for years, celebrating her singledom and advocating for other women to follow suit. It was not until she was 38 (a dinosaur back in the 60s!) that she decided to find a husband...and she did so, in a very matter-of-fact way, by meeting and marrying successful film producer (and twice-divorced) David Brown.

David is another fascinating character - he is the producer behind such hit films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, M.A.S.H., Jaws, Cocoon, A Few Good Men, and Driving Miss Daisy. The idea for Jaws actually came to him via HGB - a Cosmo reader submitted the story idea to her, she passed it on the David, he read Peter Benchley's book and then secured the movie rights.

David encouraged HGB's writing, and made all the right introductions for her in Hollywood. In 1962 she published the wildly successful (and controversial) Sex and the Single Girl, the precursor to our modern day Sex and the City. In fact, she wrote a monthly column called Step into my Parlor just as Candace Bushnell would years later.

Besides numerous books, HGB also penned several reality TV show ideas that were eerily similar to current-day programming. In one, celebrity chefs face off with a list of ingredients to see who can prepare the best meals; in another, celebrities weigh in on everyday-peoples' marital problems. Sound familiar?? While these sorts of shows are a dime a dozen today, they were considered uncomfortable material for television viewers in the 1960s. Basically, if a show didn't depict a Happy-Days-like nuclear family, it didn't air. There was even some controversy when real-life loves Lucy & Desi Arnaz filed for divorce and would no longer work together on the I Love Lucy show: rather than portray Lucy as a divorcee in later episodes (socially unacceptable!) they chose to make her a widow.

Although HGB no longer mans the helm at Cosmo, she was named the 13th most powerful American over the age of 80 by Slate magazine. Her beloved David died earlier this year at age 93, but Helen is still going strong at 88.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile for HGB fans, June 5, 2009
I was an avid reader of Cosmopolitan magazine in college and have read most of Helen Gurley Brown's books, so I was delighted to find that there was finally a biography of this interesting woman. I found the book uneven reading, though. Instead of being a straight biography, parts of the book read like a textbook, attempting to relate Brown's beliefs to the feminist movement, and comparing and contrasting her ideas with those of other feminists like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Analysis of her stands on working women, abortion, birth control, sexism, and other feminist issues seem to occupy an inordinate amount of space in the book and, to me, come across as somewhat dry and uninteresting compared to the straight biographical sections, which I found very absorbing. The author is, according to the book jacket, a professor of gender and women's studies, so it is easy to see where her interest lies. There are very few photos included in the book--I would like to have seen more. Worthwhile reading for fans of Helen Gurley Brown.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating subject but can be slow reading, May 18, 2009
By 
Jamie Holdeman (Scottsdale, AZ USA) - See all my reviews
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I wanted to read about Helen Gurley Brown because I think she is a fascinating individualist and feminist in the truest sense. I am about half way through the book and the reading is not as easy as I hoped. The author's detailed histories of feminist's who came before Helen in writing "Sex and the Single Girl" drags on way too long. The book itself often reads like a master's thesis - dry and lengthy. I am still hoping the book gets better in the second half. Helen Gurley Brown deserves an exciting bio.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm a Bad Girl Too, April 28, 2009
Curvaceous, suspiciously symmetrical cleavage bursting out of a tight bodice, heavy eye makeup, long lush hair...a bod and a come-hither look that begged for ravishment...Those Cosmo cover girls once represented, for me, the epitome of female sexuality.

At the time, I also found it flattering when my boyfriend forbid me to wear a bikini. So take my view with a large grain of post-feminist cynicism. But even so - as a young girl just beginning to understand my sexuality, I was captivated by Cosmo girls for good reason.

This new book explains exactly why.

Bad Girls Go Everywhere traces the life of Helen Gurley Brown, creator of those uber-sexy covers as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Author Jennifer Scanlon, a women's studies professor at Bowdoin College, describes how Brown, a poor Ozarks girl, hit the New York City magazine scene just as birth control and legalized abortion freed women to enjoy sex without constant pregnancy risks. In every issue of Cosmo and her landmark book, Sex and The Single Girl, Helen Gurley Brown extolled the power of women's sexuality unencumbered by maternity (Brown never had children, so she knew).

Birth control = freedom sounds like a simple equation. However, access to the Pill, abortion and other forms of pregnancy prevention resulted in critical and complicated freedoms that allowed women to educate ourselves, pursue longterm careers and time the births (and amounts) of children in our lives.

To appreciate the importance of Brown's message, think for a minute about your life without birth control.

What kind of balance can anyone have if you had a baby every two years since you became sexually active?

Being candid here, for me that would mean at age 43 I'd have close to 15 children instead of three.

Goodbye, English degree from Harvard. Ditto for my MBA from Wharton and 10 years of work experience at Johnson & Johnson and the Washington Post. Doubtful I'd have written two books or this column. And perhaps most important, during my four years with my physically abusive ex-husband, I probably would have had at least two babies instead of zero, dooming me and my children to a lifetime of physical and psychological torture. Goodbye, second chances. Goodbye, happy endings.

On the surface, Helen Gurley Brown celebrated women's bodies. But the sexy Cosmo girl was as much a metaphor as New York's Statue of Liberty. She represented women's choices, our freedom in finances, careers, relationships, lives. Move over, Thomas Jefferson - Helen Gurley Brown's signature should be on the Declaration of Independence.

Instead, life being what it is, she had to settle for her signature being in every issue of Cosmo, another declaration of independence.

Originally published on Mommy Track'd ([...]) by Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of

Crazy Love

Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bad girls go everywhere, March 30, 2010
By 
Seattle Hiker (Seattle, WA United States) - See all my reviews
As in 'good girls go to heaven ....' Helen Gurley Brown was editor of Cosmopolitan and author of Sex and the Single Girl. Brown is an original feminist, vehement in her stance that woman can decide what they want to do with their lives. She created and identified with what came to be known as the "Cosmo Girl". In her own words, "[the Cosmo Girl is] still the one who loves men and loves children but doesn't want to live through other people--she wants to achieve on her own--and to be known for what she does." (page 161-2) Her Cosmo Girl became so popular an icon that the magazine eventually became copied out of much of it's market. Most print and other type of media want to tell women how wonderful they are, how to have the best sex, how to present the best aspect of one's self in the world, and so on. This didn't used to be the message.

Brown's less than appealing aspect was her ruthless acceptance that men had the power and so therefore woman were obliged to get power and prestige by sleeping with men and accepting/demanding money or gifts. The book cover calls it 'pragmatic feminism'--sure sounds like the oldest profession to me. Brown was fairly realistic in her understanding of power in the 1950s world, and she worked the cards she was given. While I applaud her forthright acceptance of 'the way it is' and her determination to work the rules as she saw fit, I had a hard time accepting her ruthlessness about sex and what I would call using people.

Brown and the biographer should be applauded for showing that women's physical needs (ie, sex) are just as great as men's. The blindness of the 50s attitude of men toward women really comes out in the book.

Another major theme is that being single is great. A woman does not have to be identified as a wife to be a whole woman being. I hadn't realized how many of these concepts, much taken for granted by women these days, were hard-won.

So, I'm conflicted about the book. I would recommend reading it. Fascinating. However, I didn't like some of Brown's major premises, despite taking advantage of the sea change that she helped create in my world.
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Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, the Woman Behind Cosmopolitan Magazine
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