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Category: Great Women, Media

Plunging Necklines, Helen Gurley Brown, and Me

| August 14, 2012

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Helen Gurley Brown in 1964

Legendary Cosmo Editor Helen Gurley Brown died at age 90 August 13, 2012, in New York City. Book publisher Lori Perkins here remembers an icon.

I was a high school student who knew she wanted to be a journalist. I read Cosmo religiously, and loved its "My Say" column. I wrote what I thought was a hilarious piece about my worst date (which involved meeting the high school drug dealer [which I didn't know] for a date at Laserium at the New York Planetarium and having him hand me a kilo of pot to put in my purse and later distribute to the entire basketball team in nickel bags after which he proceeded to manhandle me like an octopus and was shocked when I refused to smoke pot with him in Central Park and went home alone, but I digress). Anyway, I was a little shocked myself when I received a note informing me that they wanted to buy the piece!

But my joy was short-lived. When the article went to the editing process, I was informed that it was too long and could not be edited back. They would give me a kill fee (the most money I ever made for not writing something) and Helen wanted me to come into the office to go over her "idea book."

I was elated. It took me hours to dress, because how does one dress to visit a personal icon?

I got to the old Hearst offices, and literally walked through the remodeled furniture I had seen featured in the Cosmo room makeovers in previous editions. It was too exciting!

And I waited.

A long time.

And then a skinny editorial assistant came out and told me that Helen had actually gone out to lunch, but had left me an "idea." She opened a red loose leaf binder and showed me a sheet of paper with the words "In Praise of Plunging Necklines from a Feminist Perspective."

I was overjoyed. Helen had personally chosen this topic for me. I was honored.

I spent two years trying to write the article and then gave up.

I always felt that I had personally disappointed Helen Gurley Brown, until I turned 40 and left my husband and was single again.

On my first post-marriage date, I dressed in a gray turtleneck and black slacks. I presented myself to my best girlfriend, who asked me if I was going to a PTA meeting. She firmly took me to my closet and riffled through all my "mom" clothes, and made me put on a dress with a plunging neckline that astounded even me. She told me that now that I was older, this was how I should be dressing. She told me that when you have it, flaunt it.

I got it. And I have been so very thankful for plunging necklines as a mid-life feminist.

I realized that giving that assignment to a 17 year-old, 95 pound gymnast was a waste of time. I could never have written that article then.

But I have written it now.

This one's for you, Helen!

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