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  From the
  Never tell him how many men you've slept with
It's still all about finding a man, says Helen Gurley Brown
  Sharon Dunn,
National Post

[Photo: Glenn Lowson,
National Post]

Helen Gurley Brown, 80, is the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan International.
Helen Gurley Brown is looking good. She's wearing a Chanel-look fuchsia suit with black fishnet stockings and reams of gold jewellery. "Most of it is just cheap," she says.

"No it's not," I correct her, noticing at least two Chanel bangles and a Cartier or two.

"OK, so they're not all cheap," says the 80-year-old glamour girl, who is eyeing my attire. "I want your boots," Gurley Brown tells me, referring to my knee-high snake-look tan footwear. "Where did you get them?" On closer inspection she complains, "The heel's not high enough."

Not high enough? "It's at least three inches," I tell her. She shrugs.

"It's OK to love clothes and jewellery," she says, defending herself. "It doesn't mean you are a bad person. You can still be a meaningful member of the human race."

Gurley Brown is rail thin and confides that she always has been. "But when I turned 40," she says, "I started doing old-fashioned calisthenics for one and a half hours every day, and I'm still doing them."

In spite of her 100-pound frame she says, "I never met a dessert I didn't like." If she was eating now, "I'd start with calamari, and then I'd have crab cakes and creamed spinach, without the cream. But sometimes, I not only skip desserts, I skip meals." Today she's skipping. So much for lunch, but fasting won't hurt me either.

I grew up on Helen Gurley Brown. As a young woman, I was devoted to Cosmopolitan, a magazine she still has a hand in running. (She is editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan International.) I ask her about the U.S. Cosmo that she no longer runs, and that I no longer buy.

"It's different than it used to be. When I had it, we did one major article on sex, one article on man/woman relationships, one on career and one on health. The new Cosmo deals mainly with men/women relationships and sex," she says. "But it works. People are buying it -- it's No. 1 among college girls." And even though it's not the same magazine she edited for 32 years, "the idea is the same -- to help the reader improve her life, solve problems and find a man."

Find a man? I'm shocked. "Is the object of the game still to find a man?"

She nods. "Cosmo gives hope and inspiration to help you get out there."

To prove her point, Gurley Brown tells me the publishers want to do a reprint of her '60s bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl.

"But I'll be writing a chapter on how things have changed," she admits. "When I wrote the book, the reigning philosophy was that if you were single, female and 30, you might as well throw yourself over the Grand Canyon. And if you were single, female and having sex, it was really over.

"My feeling," says Gurley Brown, "is have sex and enjoy it -- marriage, you can always get, there's no raging race to get married."

She says she's also noticing that "men are handling 'that kind of woman' better." That's because "they don't have any choice", she says, but it's also because, according to her, 1. the independent woman is bringing in a lot more money; 2. the man's friends and associates are impressed with her success; and 3. the woman is still doing most of the other "stuff", like sending the Christmas cards, organizing the social calendar and managing the housework.

"We hope that in another lifetime, men will become our domestic equals," she says sarcastically, "but it hasn't happened yet."

Gurley Brown is married to well-known movie producer 88- year-old David Brown (Jaws, Chocolat, Angela's Ashes), who was in town recently for a conference sponsored by the Ontario Media Development Corporation and The Royal Ontario Museum. "I was involved with a couple of womanizers when I was in my 20s, one an accomplished Don Juan," says Gurley Brown, who was 37 when she wed. "I want to point out Don Juans wouldn't have so much luck with women if they weren't good at 'something', if you know what I mean.

"You can't help it. You always go back [to that type]. When David came along, I was 37 and I thought, 'This is an honourable guy, he won't lie, cheat, or steal, and he's good in bed.' " But he didn't want to marry her, she confides. "He'd been married twice before."

What did she do? "I used emotional blackmail," she tells me. "I told him, 'I love you, I'll miss you, but you have to disappear because I want to get married.'

"I'd been single long enough," she says. "Two weeks later he called. They always call after two weeks," she informs me. (She's right.) "When he called I said, 'Do you want to get married?', and he said, 'We need to talk'. I told him, 'We've already talked.' And I wouldn't see him."

He came back after six weeks. "He wanted to come over and go to bed, as usual with men," she says, "but we set a date." Even then, says Gurley Brown, her soon-to-be husband was still balking.

"David said, 'I'm a good guy, I'm not cheap, we get along great, so why do you want to get married?' " More proof, we agree, that men have to be dragged down the aisle kicking and screaming.

Gurley Brown tells me that she's been a good wife (43 years and counting). "I think it's because I had all my affairs before I got married."
"If your husband had had an affair, would you have left him?" I ask.

"I wouldn't have left him, I would have killed him," she says. "I could never have gone through what I went through with the Don Juan all over again. I couldn't face it. I would have had to divorce him." But she recognizes the contradiction. "In my book, Sex and the Single Girl, I advise single women to sleep with married men," she tells me, "for the experience."

This non-apologetic '60s icon says her best advice to women is "Never tell your guy how many men you've slept with." She gets her point across in a poem she's made up. Here it is:

"How many men before me, he'll ask?

Trying to tell, is quite a task

The 5th Amendment, he's not buying,

If you say 'none,' he'll know you're lying

So throw him a number, with charm and grace

So that you can take your place

Somewhere between slut and virginity

The number you should throw is...three."

So three it is. "I never talk about my past to my husband," Gurley Brown says, "except one old boyfriend of mine from Zurich, who, even after I married, sent me a 12-pound box of chocolates every Christmas.

"He died a few years ago," she says, sighing. "We miss the chocolate."

  Last update: May 6, 2009
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