Enter Helen Book Cover Enter Helen
Brooke Hauser
biography
Harper
May 2016

This cinematic story about legendary Cosmopolitan editor and champion of the single girl Helen Gurley Brown chronicles her rise as a cultural icon who redefined what it means to be an American woman.

In 1965, Helen Gurley Brown, author of the groundbreaking bestseller Sex and the Single Girl, took over an ailing Cosmopolitan and soon revamped it into one of the most bankable—and revolutionary—brands on the planet. At a time when women’s magazines taught housewives how to make the perfect casserole, Helen spoke directly to the single girl next door, cheekily advising her on how to pursue men, money, power, pleasure, and, most of all, personal happiness.

In this retro romp that will appeal to fans of Mad Men, journalist Brooke Hauser reveals how a self-proclaimed “mouseburger” from the Ozarks became one of the most influential women of her time. Though she was married (to the renowned movie producer David Brown), no one embodied the idea of the Cosmo Girl more than Helen, who willed, worked, and flirted her way to the top. Bringing New York City vibrantly to life during the sexual revolution and the women’s movement, and featuring a rich cast of characters, including Hugh Hefner and Gloria Steinem, Enter Helen is the riveting story of a polarizing pioneer who bucked convention to define her own destiny, baiting a generation that both revered and rejected her.

 

Sex and the single girl was published in 1961. I was too young to read it! But.. it certainly influenced a lot of people and there was a lot of discussion about it, for many years to come.

Some things I didn’t know about Helen Gurley Brown and US society in 1950-60 approx:

  1. She was married in 1959 when she was 37 years old and prior to that had had over 170 lovers, and been the mistress of many very rich and powerful men. She had deliberately chosen the chosen the role of mistress.
  2. She was very plain in fact with thin hair. But she wore wigs and thick make-up to cover her acne scars – her acne had been treated by the doctor squeezing the spots!!! She could make herself look glamorous. She was very slender and petite.
  3. In most US states in the early 1960s, the husband signed leases for their wives, also bank loans and credit cards. A woman alone needed a male sponsor.
  4. Job adverts were divided into male and female sections. Female jobs were low skilled or unskilled and often advertised with such comments as attractive personality etc. Male jobs were the attorneys, accountants, engineers.
  5. The pill provided safe birth control for women for the first time. It changed the atmosphere of a date – women were now assured of safety and thus a sexual revolution began – I remember this and going to a clinic where unmarried women were accepted!

Each chapter has a quote to start it.

Some that I like included:

‘don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she is pretty, but, my goodness, doesn’t it help?’ From Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

For me this was an interesting book that pre-dated the era in which I grew up, but also had a profound impact on my late teens and early 20s. I  found Helen an interesting character and her life was certainly quite adventurous. however, I did think that overall, the book was too long at 480 pages and thus I started to get bored about half-way through. It needed a little more ‘zip’ in the writing style.

My score of 4 is because I think it is a book that should be read to help young women understand a little of what life was like before the pill and before it was accepted that women were competent to manage their own financial affairs!

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