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What’s New, Pussycat?

NEW YORK — Helen Gurley Brown is famous for her unique brand of “you-can-have-it-all-and-then-some” feminism, but this modern woman has a very old-fashioned hobby: writing letters. In her new book, “Dear Pussycat: Mash Notes...

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Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown

Photo By David Turner

NEW YORK — Helen Gurley Brown is famous for her unique brand of “you-can-have-it-all-and-then-some” feminism, but this modern woman has a very old-fashioned hobby: writing letters. In her new book, “Dear Pussycat: Mash Notes and Missives From the Desk of Cosmopolitan’s Legendary Editor” (St. Martin’s Press), Brown shares more than 300 notes, including memos to Cosmo staffers, a letter to John F. Kennedy Jr. and another to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, written when she was just 15 years old.

“I’m a psychotic letter-writer,” says the perennially thin Brown, who relies on her Royal manual typewriter and dictaphone instead of a computer to churn out her observations. The fruits of this particular morning’s labor include a note to Good Housekeeping editor Ellen Levine about a television appearance. “Talking to people can take 10 or 15 minutes, but if you do a letter, you can get it over in three,” says Brown.

Sitting in her office outfitted with leopard carpet and pink walls, she’s the consummate flirt. When a photographer tells her to look into the camera lens, she responds, “I prefer looking in your big blue eyes.”

Her latest book, something of a nod to Visionaire’s recent publication of Diana Vreeland’s staff memos, showcases Brown’s endearing combination of no-nonsense practicality and girlish charm. Early last year, Brown and her assistant sorted through a three-foot-high stack of papers (all carbon copies from 1965 to 1990 were thrown away in an office move, so there are few letters from that time), and Brown arranged chapters such as “Thank You, Friend,” “Will You Do Something for Me?” and “Cosmopolitan (How It Works).”

“My rules to myself are: If you’re thanking somebody for something, do it quick, and if you’re complimenting a famous person, quote something in it that you like,” she says. “Celebrities like to get letters, but you mustn’t go on too long.”

Brown, now 82, often writes to people who need a little good-luck charm. “Well, I’m not the philanthropist of the Western world,” she admits. “I don’t raise a lot of money for causes and I don’t go to luncheons because I’m busy, but I can make people feel good.” She sent a four-leaf clover to Lizzie Grubman after the Hamptons car crash and an encouraging note to Katie Couric after ABC enlisted Diane Sawyer.
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