Mrs. Brown, who had written in her 1962 book that “being smart about money is sexy,” promoted brown-bag lunches and savings accounts along with features on beauty and weight loss. She always featured an alluring woman on the cover (“I like pretty, and I like skin,” she said), and in 1972, a nude centerfold of actor Burt Reynolds rocked the magazine world.
As with her most famous book, her work at the magazine made her a target of criticism. In 1970, a group of militant feminists led by Kate Millett conducted a sit-in demonstration at Cosmopolitan’s office in New York.
As the decades passed, Mrs. Brown made no serious effort to cover AIDS or domestic violence. The magazine seldom if ever mentioned children, a reflection of Mrs. Brown’s own lack of interest in motherhood. “I didn’t want to give up the time, the love, the money,” she told USA Today in 1990.
She was a relentless proselytizer for an age-defying body and boasted about the breast implants she received at 73.
A strict diet — at one point, she gave up all sugar, alcohol and caffeine — and a daily exercise routine kept Mrs. Brown slim — some say painfully thin — and she promoted abstemious habits her whole life. Still, she told Vanity Fair in 2007, the thing about herself she least liked was “my fat tummy.”
Her personality was so woven into Cosmopolitan that it made huge news when she was forced from her position as editor in chief in 1996. She was replaced by Bonnie Fuller, the 39-year-old editor at Hearst’s Marie Claire magazine. Mrs. Brown stayed on to manage Cosmopolitan’s dozens of international editions, telling reporters there were no hard feelings.
“I’m a very smart, realistic person,” she told the New York Times in 1997. “I live in the real world. . . . Even though Cosmo is working — didn’t need to be fixed — the time comes when you can’t be 75 and edit a magazine for a 24-year-old.”
Mrs. Brown had no immediate survivors. In January, she gave a combined $30 million to Columbia and Stanford universities to create a journalism and technology institute housed at both schools.
She earlier gave her papers to Smith College, the alma mater of both Friedan and Steinem, and donated money to support the Ada Comstock Scholars program at Smith, which provides tuition for late-in-life and other nontraditional students to attend the women’s college.
“I am a feminist,” Mrs. Brown told the New York Times in 1982. “Cosmo predated the women’s movement, and I have always said my message is for the woman who loves men but who doesn’t want to live through them. ‘Sex and the Single Girl’ was controversial at the time because it said a woman could be a sexual creature and not have a wedding band on her finger.”
She added, “I sometimes think feminists don’t read what I write. I am for total equality. My relevance is that I deal with reality.”
Her hard work, modest habits and traditional marriage were often overshadowed by the saucy public image that Mrs. Brown cultivated — the Cosmo girl, her philosophy summed up by a quote she displayed in her office: “Good Girls Go to Heaven — Bad Girls Go Everywhere.”