This was when I was working for Rupert Murdoch in the mid-'70s and Helen and her husband David Brown had been threatening to go to dinner with me and we set a date. Helen was the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, very much a jewel in the Hearst crown, and husband David, an urbane, delightful gent, was a former newspaperman and magazine editor who'd gone Hollywood and who would, before he was through, produce (with associates) such enormous hits as "Jaws," "The Sting," "The Verdict," "The Sound of Music," "Butch Cassidy" (as well as writing the Cosmo coverlines for his wife). So here were two people at the top of their professions and the top of their form who wanted desperately to have dinner at Elaine's but were afraid Elaine wouldn't know who they were and give them a bad table.
So off we went. And I'll never forget the two of them, all evening long, swiveling this way and that, asking, "Now who's that? " And, "Isn't that so and so...?"
As wide-eyed as a couple of kids, or a brace of Midwest tourists in Manhattan, they convinced me that just maybe that's what made them both so good at what they did, bringing a freshness and curiosity and excitement even to dining out at a new place. Maybe it explained why, with all that money and living grandly on Central Park West, they didn't own a weekend escape in the Hamptons and Helen made a point of traveling around Manhattan, and to and from work, by city bus.
I think I began to understand then why Helen knew so well "That Cosmopolitan Girl..."
And in another year or so she'll be stepping down and Bonnie Fuller will inherit the job.
There were of course reasons for Helen to go. She'd been doing the job since Lyndon Johnson's time. She was 73 talking to an audience of 20 somethings. Circulation was down a bit and so were the ad pages. Last year when he was still running the magazine company, Claeys Bahrenburg dangled a reputed three-quarters of a million to a million in front of Donna Galotti and brought her in as publisher. But it took new magazine boss Cathleen Black to make and carry the decision to bring in a successor to Helen as editor. And, to agree to what seems a very long transition period. Was that something on which Helen insisted?
I wouldn't be surprised. In recent years whenever the subject of her retirement came up, she shuddered. "If I weren't editor of Cosmo, no one would ask me to lunch." Which is, of course, part disingenuous rubbish and part insecurity, and all wrong. Ever since she burst on the scene with her bestseller, "Sex and the Single Girl," in 1962, she's been on everyone's A List and still is.
For starters, why doesn't she now do a book about her own successful marriage? Or how through the years she coped with all those feudal barons at Hearst? Or her expectations for the next millennium?
She could be coy and set teeth on edge going on about her own sex life at a certain age and there was a touch of pose in descriptions of herself as nothing but a little "mouseburger," but by God! what a woman.
When Hearst canned me as editor & publisher of Harper's Bazaar in 1972, there were only two Hearstlings who kept in touch with the leper, still took me to lunch: John Mack Carter of Good House and Helen. You don't forget that.