I Think Helen Gurley Brown Owned My Cabinet

I have this antique cabinet that I’m convinced belonged in former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown‘s NYC apartment. Indulge me here while I explain.

The longtime Cosmopolitan editor, who died Monday, August 13 at the age of 90, lived a storied life. Not only was she the first to lead frank discussions about sex in women’s magazines in the 1960s, she was one of the first female editors to lead a historic, yet forward-thinking national newsstand publication. (Cosmopolitan was founded in 1886 as a family magazine. It later changed formats to a literary magazine and finally a women’s magazine in the 1960s.)

Before then, most women were relegated to the garden section or the society page, while most senior editorial posts were held by men. She wrote salacious headlines about sex and “getting” a man, while paving the way for women in a male-dominated newsroom. 

In a sense, Gurley Brown lived her famous quote, “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.” So, while writing a short piece for SUCCESS.com about Gurley Brown’s oft-reported quotes about lifestyle, money and career, I began a form a vivid picture in my mind of the woman who called everyone Pussycat. There’s an article and photo on the Guardian that shows Gurley Brown, sitting sideways in a chair, legs outstretched, with a drink in one hand and a long cigarette holder in the other. The caption places her in her New York City apartment in 1965, the year she began her 32-year tenure at Cosmopolitan.

That’s when furniture floated into my mind (obviously). I had just purchased an antique secretary bookshelf from a warehouse sale here in Dallas. This Danish mid-century modern piece featured a marled wood exterior and a cigarette smoke-lined interior. I scrubbed and scrubbed 40-year-old cigarette residue from cocktail parties of past and cleaned off wooden shelves left stained by many spilled pours of vodka tonic.

I realized Helen Gurley Brown was exactly the woman I pictured having this modern piece in her home. Her sterling silver cigarette case tucked neatly in the top left drawer. Her crystal decanters of vodka and gin lining the shelves behind the pull-down secretary hatch.  Save for the lipstick-stained Old Fashioned glasses, I’m convinced this was hers.

The cabinet sits prominently in my home, adorned with trinkets old and new–my small collection of old cameras sits next to the multi-colored Missoni candle from Target. Now, I realize this cabinet could have been sitting in a spare bedroom of a middle-age midwestern couple’s home, but I think my Helen Gurley Brown story is a little bit more fabulous.

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