I was going to write about how Helen Gurley Brown was my role model.
In so many ways, she was. Hard worker. Funny writer. Charismatic editor. Loving wife. Good sister. Good daughter. Rags-to-riches success story. Philanthropist. (She gave $30 million to create an institute for media innovation at her husband's two alma maters, Stanford and Columbia.)
But then I thought about how she advised women that it was OK to sleep with married guys (even though no one thinks she would have allowed anyone to take up with her own husband).
And I thought about her appearance issues - being obsessed with being thin and indulging in a lot of cosmetic surgery. (I love these two lines in The New York Times obituary today: "She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger." And "At 5 feet 4, she remained a wraithlike hundred pounds throughout her adult life. That weight, she often said, was five pounds above her ideal.")
And I decided that she is simply my partial role model. And that's just fine.
It's unrealistic to expect one person to be perfect in all ways. So I'll admire Helen Gurley Brown for her generosity, work ethic, humble spirit, and longevity. (Making it to 90 - not too shabby!)
And I'll create my role model composite by supplementing HGB with Meryl Streep - with her au naturel look and apparent belief in fidelity.
But back to the wonderful-in-almost-all-ways Cosmo editor.
I remember reading Having It All and writing her a fan letter. In return, I received a hand-written postcard. Who knows if she wrote it herself? But I thought she did, and I adored her for the gesture.
She looked glamorous as can be. And yet she called herself a "mouseburger" - and made women everywhere who felt less-than-supermodel-ish believe there was hope for them, too. She didn't get married until she was in her 30s - and she still managed to land a wonderful man and stay hitched for more than five decades. (Her husband, David Brown, wrote Cosmo's cover blurbs and co-produced movies like "The Sting" and "Jaws.")
She was unable to finish college because she needed to earn money to care for her mother and sister. (As a 1982 People profile notes, her dad died when she was 10, and her sister contracted polio at 19.) Did she feel sorry for herself? No. She worked 17 secretarial jobs to help support her family - and, not surprisingly, moved on up. She edited Cosmo for 32 years.
I admire how much she seemed to enjoy running the magazine - and promoting it with a sense of humor. When she appeared on "The Tonight Show" with substitute David Brenner, she advised on bedroom manners and noted that a woman should "not be layered too much." Her most famous lines, noted in TheDailyBeast.com, also include, "Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort," and "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere."
Here's to a (partial) role model extraordinaire. RIP, HGB.
For more about role models, read: