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The time I met ‘sassypants’ Helen Gurley Brown

  • Lauren Finney is a former fashion assistant for Cosmopolitan
  • She remembers first time she met THE Helen Gurley Brown
Lauren Finney

Editor’s note: Lauren Finney is a fashion blogger living in New York City. She is the founder and editor of Where the Style Things Are and a former fashion assistant at Cosmopolitan magazine. She is on Twitter.

The state-of-the-art elevators at the Hearst Tower on West 57th Street in Manhattan are usually a hotbed of fashion, gossip, and reviews of the day's cafeteria offerings. Having worked at Cosmopolitan as a fashion assistant for almost four years, I took the elevators, on average, four times a day up to the 38th floor and back down.

I have been in these elevators with revered fashion editors, sports figures, movie stars, and famous chefs, but no one has made that elevator ride more memorable for me than the infamous Helen Gurley Brown, who passed away Monday at age 90.

Ask any Cosmopolitan or other Hearst publication staffer and chances are they’ll have their own personal story to tell about HGB.

She came and went from her office on the 37th floor -- right below Cosmo’s fashion closet -- nearly every day in full makeup, coiffed hair, leopard coat, and smart outfit. Each morning someone would wait out front for her car, and she would be escorted into a waiting wheelchair and whisked up into the building through the “secret” side elevator.

Once, I managed to get in the elevator with her from the ground up, and the following happened:

HGB: “I love your high heels!”
Me: [shocked and excited] “Thank you so much! I love your jacket.”
HGB: “My doctor says I can’t wear high heels anymore. [pause] Perhaps I should get a new doctor.”

I laughed along with her and said goodbye as she exited the elevator with her escort.

After getting off one floor later, I immediately launched into a detailed description of The Elevator Conversation to End All Elevator Conversations for my colleagues at Cosmopolitan.

Gurley Brown was, of course, legendary for saying things like, “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere,” and “One of the paramount reasons for staying attractive is so you can have somebody to go to bed with.” But it’s the memories like my own that bring such a personal touch to her and make me feel so proud not only to have worked for an institution like Cosmopolitan but also to be one of the many women following in her footsteps after she paved the way for women’s interest magazines (the official subtitle on the Cosmopolitan glass doors).

She was one of the original sassypants: Truly brassy, funny, sharp, and charming well into her 80s.

One former editor even told me Helen Gurley Brown yelled at her for yawning once, saying it was absolutely something one should not do. My friend's parents still reference HGB to this day.

While she was abhorred by her feminist contemporaries, it’s generally thought now that she was perhaps the most feminist of all -- giving women the right to choose what "having it all" really means and achieve their own personal successes.

Helen Gurley Brown will be missed by many, many people, but her impact -- and elevator stories -- will live on.

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