Welcome to Working
Girl Wednesdays! Need advice on handling the complexities of the modern
workplace? Well, fret no more! Whether it’s a senior partner making a
move or a catty co-worker plotting for your plum position, Helen Gurley
Brown’s 1964 book Sex and the Office has a solution. Every Wednesday on Glossed Over, I’ll present a new tip from the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan. Is her advice utterly ridiculous or startlingly prescient? You decide!
Alas, we’ve reached the final chapter of Sex and the Office. Dubbed “The Perils of Little Helen,” it covers the personal experiences that allowed HGB to become an expert on all things work-related. For instance, she
once received this bit of advice:
Mr. Paul Ziffren was also smart (he later became head of the Democratic Party in California), and he taught me several very smart things. If you want somebody to think you’re lying, for instance, just tell the truth, he said. They’ll say, “Where were you last night?” You answer, “I was so drunk I had to sleep in the back of my car.” They will then say, “Come on now, where were you really?”
Working as a secretary also taught her to deal with, er, difficult people:
Mr. Winston (which was almost his name) hated Communists, Catholics, ostentation, Roosevelt (even though the man had graciously obliged him by dying), noise of any kind before lunchtime, and Jews. He hated all these things pretty vehemently, but most of all he hated Jews. It was really kind of pathetic, because the poor darling had, incredibly, constructed a motion picture studio with many sound stages right in the heart of Hollywood, not realizing until it was built that the entertainment business was larded with his least favorite people.
…My one big problem in making good was in learning to hate Jews. I couldn’t tell who was Jewish. Mother never told me I was different. In Little Rock where I grew up everybody was too busy with lynchings and all that to get around to Jews… My roommate Barbara, who was half-Jewish, tried to help… “See my eyes,” Barbara would say. “Jewish eyes are sort of big and brown and terribly sad.”… We decided we needed outsiders to practice on, and wherever we went, Barbara would scout Jews and I would study them.
I explained to Mr. W… “My god,” he said. “My God! My own secretary in a hotbed of them! This is what comes from not having you investigated…I just never dreamed the agency would send me a…a…a Jew-lover!”
Because of my first-rate gossip perhaps, or maybe because I was mouse-quiet, Mr. W. decided to save me from the ovens.
The ovens! Ha! Because getting fired is totally comparable to the Holocaust!
Here’s yet another man you’d never want to work for:
Mr. Gross, as it turned out, didn’t put people in jars and snuff out their lights. He shell-shocked them. Though I hadn’t noticed a single gun around the place during my interview, whenever a group of us went to call on Mr. Gross we never knew whether we would be fired on by a short-barrel Luger or a Smith & Wesson revolver. “Got a new gun,” Mr. Gross would announce in the middle of a spring shade presentation. Then he would point it straight at the account executive’s head and fire. We just had to trust that he would continue to use blanks.
And finally, I reached the “About the Author” page, which includes this crucial autobiographical detail:
She is five feet four and a half inches tall, has brown hair and brown eyes, a sultry voice, a twenty-two-inch waist, an abiding love for and faith in single girls, girls who work and all the men who protect them.
Next week: a look back at the wisdom of Sex and the Office and an introduction to our next book. Is there a magazine-related book you’d like to see excerpted here? Let me know in the comments!