August 27, 2012 12:00 PM

Helen Gurley Brown often said, “Sex is one of the three most pleasurable things we have, and I’m not sure what the other two are.” For millions, reading Cosmopolitan during Brown’s three decades as editor-in-chief would be right up there. Brown-who died on Aug. 13 in Manhattan at age 90-first gained notoriety for her 1962 blockbuster book Sex and the Single Girl, which dismissed the dream of domesticity in favor of a more liberated lifestyle that included trysts, cosmetic surgery and designer-label lust. Three years later the Arkansas native’s bold-and-bawdy stances landed her Cosmo‘s corner office, which she decked out in leopard print and pink silk. “Her mission was for women to have what they wanted, not what somebody else wanted for them,” says Hearst editorial director Ellen Levine, who worked for Brown in the ’70s and ’80s. “She wanted women to be honest about how they felt about men, sex, romance and money,” adds Brown’s biographer Jennifer Scanlon. To that end Brown taught legions of Cosmo girls “How to Get Your Husband to Love You Like a Mistress” and filled the magazine with quizzes asking, “Are You a Good Lover?” She also invented the male centerfold for a woman’s magazine, featuring Burt Reynolds posing nude on a bearskin rug in 1972. Yet no one worshipped her more than her husband of 51 years, producer David Brown, who in 2004 called his wife “an icon of the feminist movement [who] is as accommodating as a geisha.” So, yes, Brown bagged her man. But that’s not her legacy. “Walking down the street, [readers] would yell, ‘I love you!’ “says Levine. “She was a rock star for women.”

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