The former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, Helen Gurley Brown is a magazine industry icon.
Born to a poor family in rural Arkansas, Helen worked as a secretary in LA before landing a job writing copy for an ad agency. At 37, with a successful ad career underway, she married film producer David Brown; three years later, she achieved fame with her 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl, which challenged the cultural norms of the time and quickly became a bestseller. Her new status as the voice of modern women led her to Hearst, where in 1965 she pitched her idea for a new magazine that would target twentysomething women. Hearst bit, and handed Brown Cosmopolitan, which was then struggling. She quickly turned it into the women's guide to relationships, jobs, fashion, and friendships, boosting monthly circulation to three million and making Cosmo a household name. In 1997 Brown stepped down as editor but continued to serve Hearst as a consultant.
In her 30+ years at Cosmo, Brown revolutionized women's media, moving away from what had passed as editorial content for women (recipes for meatloaf in Ladies Home Journal) and making it okay to talk about topics like casual sex and seducing men. Paving the way for the Candace Bushnells of this world—she's been called the "the godmother of the contemporary sexpert industry"—Brown's specific brand of female empowerment was controversial with feminist scholars for years, but there's little question she helped explode cultural taboos for women in America.
Brown married David Brown in 1959. A prolific film producer responsible for The Sting, Jaws, and A Few Good Men, David passed away in 2010. [Image via Getty]