“Banned book” brings to mind censorship, repression. But a different facet intrigued Helen Gurley Brown 43 years ago when she wrote her publicist about her forthcoming book, Sex and The Single Girl — publicity.
Sex and The Single Girl was on the cutting edge of the cultural revolution in the 1960s and feminism. Some 40-plus years later, the book’s chapters on decorating, home entertaining, sewing and cosmetics seem a bit odd for a feminist book. Although the book’s title and content — including chapters on “How to Be Sexy” and how to conduct affairs — were alone sufficient to create a stir in 1962 America, Brown and her publicist, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, thought getting it officially banned would generate more publicity and sales.
In her letter, Brown told Cottin she wanted to explore getting “a public denunciation — a nice, strong, snarly, vocal one — from some religious leader.” She suggested the Catholic Church as a candidate. Although Cottin sent advance copies of the book to people she thought might object to its publication, no one rose up to actually ban the book. When Cottin finally suggested abandoning the effort, Brown wondered if the Daughters of the American Revolution might want to ban the book.
An actual ban wasn’t necessary for Sex and The Single Girl to capture attention, especially given a national ad campaign by the publisher. It sold more than two million copies in three weeks, was one of the 10 bestselling nonfiction books in 1962 and spent more than a year on the bestseller lists. A movie adaptation with Natalie Wood as Brown was released in 1964.
Even though Brown was unsuccessful getting her own book banned, you wonder if her efforts would be successful — or even necessary — today.
I don’t have to describe a married man. He is available for observation as the common housefly and about as welcome to many single girls as the common cold.
Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and The Single Girl