Between interviews, Brown has ducked into an empty office at CNN, changed into a little black leotard and is furiously knocking off some leg lifts. "I'm a very eccentric person," she puffs. "It's a little nutty to be so compulsive to come in here and exercise." But that's what it takes to keep sexy, and sexiness is next to godliness in the gospel according to Brown. "My late psychiatrist said I was the most goal-oriented person he had ever met.”
God knows, it's worked for her. She leapt from secretary to copywriter to best-selling author of "Sex and the Single Girl" to editor of Cosmopolitan, now one of the most successful magazines in the world, and became an American institution in the process.
Two weeks ago, Hearst Magazines announced that Brown would step down as editor in chief after 31 years at the helm. What they didn't say is that the original Cosmo girl is being gently but finally eased out. "It's not quite appropriate to have someone as old as I editing a magazine for a 23-year-old woman," says Brown, who will be replaced next year by 39-year-old Bonnie Fuller. "So they have done the right thing, and they're doing it very graciously."
It would be a grave miscalculation, however, to think that Helen Gurley Brown is going quietly into retirement. She's not ready for life as a gray-haired senior citizen, not ready to stop working and certainly not ready to stop having sex, which is why she's doing tummy tucks on the floor, taking estrogen supplements and touting face lifts. Her first Cosmo readers are now 50 years old, assuming they were 19 when her first issue appeared in 1965, and the message today isn't much different from her message back then.
"The fact is, if you're not a sex object, that's when you have to worry," she says. "To be desired sexually, in my opinion, is about the best thing there is."
Let's see if we've got this straight: Sex is the best thing in the world. "I think eating and breathing are the other top two," she says.
Okay, there are other things in her life. She loves Hillary Rodham Clinton, gossip and mystery stories. She mainlines brown rice pudding smothered in Butter Buds and tons of Equal. Her size 2 frame is usually found in Donna Karan or Calvin Klein. "If you're not having fun with clothes, I think you're missing something." She loves men, especially her husband of 37 years, producer David Brown. And she adores her work.
In short, she's still a Cosmo girl.
"People who don't read the magazine think the Cosmo girl is a bimbo, that she's the gorgeous, gorgeous model on the cover, that she's very fast track -- that she has no ethics or morals," says Brown. "They are so off the wall. Cosmo really is this basic message: Just do what's there every day, and one thing will finally lead to another and you'll get to be somebody. And being somebody is a very nice thing to be."