Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen 368 pages
I first became aware of “Cosmopolitan” magazine when its intrepid editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown, visited “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in the late 1970s. It was on those shows that I learned of her radically feministic book “Sex and the Single Girl,” which was published in 1962.
This story takes place three years later, in 1965 Manhattan. The publishing world is still the old boys’ network and women were supposed to be at home. Alice Weiss (a fictional character) has left her Ohio home for New York, with dreams of becoming a photographer. Thanks to an old friend, she gets an exciting job as the secretary to HGB, a woman who knows what she wants but doesn’t know a thing about publishing a magazine.
The Hearst Corporation wants to shutter Cosmo, but HGB wants to bring it into the twentieth century and revitalize its contents and looks. She wants to aim it at young women who want something more before they settle down to a home and a family. It’s HGB’s job to turn the magazine around but not offend old conservatives. Easier said than down when the old boys’ network is sabotaging her every move and decision.
Readers get to see the birth of Cosmo and how HGB raised it from the ashes. Daily life is hectic in the magazine world, and readers get a chance to see what life was really like back in those days: the cigarettes that everyone chain-smoked, the lunchtime drinks, the deals.
Author Rosen was fortunate to meet and talk with Lois Cahall, the woman who probably knew HGB better than anyone else. I’m sure that’s why the story feels so intimate. With Alice as its narrator, modern readers get a glimpse into a storied past. Along the way, Alice finds a way to have everything HGB says she can have, and more.
“Park Avenue Summer” receives 6 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.