An ugly duckling by her own account, Helen Gurley was a child of the Ozarks, born Feb. 18, 1922 in Green Forest, Ark. Growing up in the Depression, she earned pocket money by giving other kids dance lessons.
Her father died when she was 10 and her mother, a teacher, moved the family to Los Angeles, where young Helen, acne-ridden and otherwise physically unendowed, graduated as valedictorian of John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in 1939.
All the immediate future held was secretarial work. With typing and shorthand learned at a business college, she went through 18 jobs in seven years at places like the William Morris Agency, the Daily News in Los Angeles, and, in 1948, the Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency. There, when finally given a shot at writing ad copy, she began winning prizes and was hired away by Kenyon & Eckhardt, which made her the highest paid advertising woman on the West Coast.
She also evidently was piling up the experience she put to use later as an author, editor and hostess of a TV chitchat show.
“I've never worked anywhere without being sexually involved with somebody in the office,” she told New York magazine in 1982. Asked whether that included the boss, she said, “Why discriminate against him?”
Marriage came when she was 37 to twice-divorced David Brown, a former Cosmopolitan managing editor turned movie producer, whose credits would include “The Sting” and “Jaws.”
Her husband encouraged Brown to write a book, which she wrote on weekends, and suggested the title, “Sex and the Single Girl.”
They moved to New York after the book became one of the top sellers of 1962. Moviemakers bought it for a then-very-hefty $200,000, not for the nonexistent plot, but for its provocative title. Natalie Wood played a character named Helen Gurley Brown who had no resemblance to the original.
She followed up her success with a long-playing record album, “Lessons in Love,” and another book, “Sex in the Office,” in 1965.
That year she and her husband pitched a women's magazine idea at Hearst, which turned it down, but hired her to run Cosmopolitan instead.
In 1967 she hosted a TV talk show, “Outrageous Opinions,” syndicated in 19 cities and featuring celebrity guests willing to be prodded about sex and other risque topics.
She also went on to write five more books, including “Having It All” in 1982 and in 1993, at age 71, “The Late Show,” which was subtitled: “A Semiwild but Practical Survival Plan for Women Over 50.”
“My own philosophy is if you're not having sex, you're finished. It separates the girls from the old people,” she told an interviewer.
The Browns were childless by choice, she said.
Rayner Pike contributed to this report.