It’s 1965 and Cosmopolitan magazine’s brazen new editor in chief—Helen Gurley Brown—shocks America and saves a dying publication by daring to talk to women about all things off-limits...
New York City is filled with opportunities for single girls like Alice Weiss, who leaves her small Midwestern town to chase her big-city dreams and unexpectedly lands a job working for the first female editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown.
For Alice, who wants to be a photographer, it seems like the perfect foot in the door, but nothing could have prepared her for the world she enters. Editors and writers resign on the spot, refusing to work for the woman who wrote the scandalous bestseller Sex and the Single Girl, and confidential memos, article ideas, and cover designs keep finding their way into the wrong hands. When someone tries to pull Alice into a scheme to sabotage her boss, she is more determined than ever to help Helen succeed.
While pressure mounts at the magazine, Alice struggles not to lose sight of her own dreams as she’s swept up into a glamorous world of five-star dinners, lavish parties, and men who are certainly no good. Because if Helen Gurley Brown has taught her anything, it’s that a woman can demand to have it all.
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New York City
I had creased and folded my subway map so many times over the past few days that it was on the verge of tearing in two. Somehow I had boarded the wrong train. Again. I'd ended up at Times Square instead of 57th Street. Now what?
I exited the train, took a few tentative steps and froze on the platform, people weaving around me, bumping up against my portfolio, jostling the photographs inside. A young woman in a pink and gold sari called to a little boy running on ahead of her, past a man playing bongos. The Times Square station was a maze of tiled corridors and tunnels, stairwells that led from one frenzied level to another. A blur of signs pointed me in all directions: Uptown, Downtown, The Bronx, Brooklyn, 8th Avenue, 40th Street . . .
I didn't have time to risk getting on the wrong train, so I folded my tattered map, tucked it inside my pocketbook and made my way to the 42nd Street exit where I was met with a blast of horns, a gust of exhaust. I stood at the curb feeling as bewildered as I'd been inside the station, and yet, it was exhilarating. I'd arrived in New York about a week ago, and like the city, I was alive, filled with possibility and adventure. Anything could happen now. My life was about to begin.
I'd never hailed a taxicab before and was momentarily paralyzed. All I could do was observe other people's techniques, like the businessman who raised his hand ever so slightly, accomplishing the task with just two fingers. Another man with bags under his eyes, big and full as cheeks, yelled out a commanding "Taxi," making a driver swerve across two lanes before bringing his cab to a screeching halt. Job done. The woman beside me waved her hand like a magic wand and a taxicab appeared. I mimicked her approach, my fingers flapping amateurishly. Two taxicabs barreled past me as if I wasn't there before one pulled up alongside me. I gave the driver the address while he laid on his horn, inching forward, leaving barely a whisper of air between his bumper and the taxicab in front of us. We were one in a chain of yellow cabs going nowhere fast.
I checked the clock on the dashboard. "I have an appointment in twenty minutes," I said to the driver through the cloudy Plexiglas window separating us. "Do you think we can make it in time?"
He shot me an impatient look through his rearview mirror. "You coulda walked it, lady," he said in a thick Brooklyn accent.
I sat back, trying to relax, clutching my portfolio: a homemade case that protected my photographs, mounted to sheets of construction paper and held between two cardboard covers. I used a black ribbon to tie it shut.
It was a bright, unseasonably warm day, and the driver had all the windows rolled down. I drew a deep breath, unable to place the scent until I realized that it was everything I was not smelling: the absence of grass, trees and those easy, open-space breezes. The flow of air, obstructed by the buildings, seemed stagnant, almost stale, yet the city was in constant motion, all vigor and energy.
At the corner of 47th and Eighth Avenue, I spotted a man and a woman waiting for the light. They reminded me of couples I'd seen in the movies. He was in a dark suit, his fedora worn with a Sinatra tilt. She was impeccably dressed in a skirt and matching jacket, belted at the waist. He pulled a cigarette from his breast pocket, offering her one before he suavely lit them both. As puffs of smoke gathered above their heads, the streetlight changed and off they went. I watched until they disappeared into the throng of New Yorkers, wishing I had my camera with me. You didn't see people like that back in Ohio.
My cab cleared the intersection and I grew giddy thinking that soon I'd be taking my place among the locals, walking with a purpose, each step bringing me closer to the very things I'd come here for. And with that, I couldn't help but think about my mother. She was supposed to have been by my side when I came to New York, and I wasn't one of those people comforted by the ethereal; she's still with you, watching over you.
As we continued on, I craned my neck, not wanting to miss a thing. There was more to see here in just two blocks than in all of Youngstown. I leaned forward to get a better look at the giant Camel billboard of a man smoking a cigarette, blowing actual smoke rings. All of Times Square was flashing with Canadian Club, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and a sign for Admiral Television Appliances. Even in the middle of the day, the theater marquees were lit and winking, some reputable while others advertised peep shows starring raw naked women. Again, I itched for my camera. Even when I didn't have it with me, I was still taking pictures in my head.
I had moved to New York to become a photographer despite my father and everyone else, including the editor at the Youngstown Vindicator, telling me a woman couldn't do that kind of work. Taking personal snapshots like my mother did was one thing, but professional photographs for newspapers and magazines? Never. Maybe not in a small town, but surely New York City would be different. And just knowing they said I couldn't do it made me all the more determined to prove them wrong. Stubbornness, something I'd inherited from my mother.
My father and Faye, his new wife, said they weren't financing my pipe dream, so after graduating from secretarial school and working as a typist in a steel foundry for three months, I'd saved $375. I knew that wouldn't go very far, seeing as the taxicab meter had already hit 90 cents. My most immediate need was a job-any job. I'd already interviewed with an accounting firm, followed by a scaffolding manufacturer and an insurance agency. They were jobs I didn't want and thankfully didn't get.
That was why I finally pulled out the number I'd been carrying since I'd arrived but had been too shy or proud to use. I called Elaine Sloan. Elaine and my mother had been roommates in New York, living at the Barbizon Hotel, both of them aspiring models. My mother, beautiful as she was, had fallen short of the dream, becoming a Midwestern housewife. Elaine ended up as a book editor at Bernard Geis Associates. I'd met Elaine once, at my mother's funeral, and had exchanged a few cards and letters with her since. She said to contact her if ever I needed anything. I thought maybe she could help me land a photography job, or at the very least, something in publishing.
When I arrived at Bernard Geis Associates on East 56th Street, I found myself on the forty-second floor, in a colorful lobby filled with pop art and Eero Aarnio pod chairs suitable for a moon landing. In the middle of it all was a pole you'd expect to see in a fire station. It extended all the way through a circular cutout in the ceiling of the floor above. While I gave the receptionist my name, a woman slid down that pole, her skirt bunched up, revealing her blue garter, before landing with a respectable dismount.
Moments later Elaine Sloan made a more dignified entrance through a side door. The first thing I-or probably anyone-noticed about Elaine was her hair. She was prematurely gray, each strand a luminous shade of silvery white that caught the light and accentuated her blue eyes. Eyes that looked as though they'd seen more than most women her age. I told myself she resembled my mother, though they looked nothing alike. My mind was playing tricks on me and I knew why. Yes, I was a grown woman of twenty-one, but I still wanted my mother. Elaine Sloan-her most devoted and dearest friend-was the closest I could get to her now.
She greeted me with a warm smile and showed me into her office, which had a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. "Tell me how I can help you," she asked, gesturing for me to sit in the chair opposite her desk.
After sharing tidbits of my disheartening job search, I set my portfolio on her desk. "But what I'm really looking for is something in photography."
"I see." She leaned forward, reaching for my case. "May I?"
"Please . . ." I untied the ribbon for her and sat silently while she leafed through my photographs, pausing here and there but saying nothing. She closed the cover before she reached the end.
It was a blow, but I would not be ungrateful and let my disappointment show.
She smiled and sat back, inching my portfolio toward me with her fingertips. "You have an eye," she said, just to be kind.
"Thank you." I tied my portfolio shut and set it in my lap, thinking how much more competitive everything was here. Back home people appreciated my photographs, selecting them for the school newspaper and yearbook. But in New York my pictures were barely enough to hold anyone's attention.
"Well, it's not photography," she said, "but I do have something in mind." Elaine pressed the intercom on her desk and said, "Get David Brown on the line for me, will you?" She released the talk button and reached behind her for a book on her credenza. "Are you familiar with this?" She held up a copy of Sex and the Single Girl.
That blue cover instantly took me back to my senior year of high school, to a slumber party in Esther Feinberg's basement. Four of us had stayed up half the night, taking turns reading aloud from Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl. I remembered certain passages made us squeal and roll onto our sides, pillows pressed to our faces to smother our giggles and shock. At the time, I didn't think the book applied to me because I had Michael Segal. My future was set. At least it was until I gave him back his grandmother's ring after he said he wasn't ready to marry me. The next day I went out and bought my own copy of Sex and the Single Girl and read it cover to cover. More than once.
A moment later the secretary's voice squawked back on the intercom. "I have Mr. Brown on line one for you."
"The best way to get to Helen is through her husband," Elaine said as she picked up the phone and swiveled around in her chair, facing the window. "Hello, David." She leaned back and laughed at something he said. I watched her reflection in the glass as she propped her feet on the windowsill and crossed her ankles. She was wearing a pair of Gucci loafers. I recognized the interlocked gold G's on top. "Is Helen still looking for a secretary?" she asked. "Oh, good. I have someone I think she should meet." She looked back at me and winked. "Her name's Alice Weiss. Shall I send her over? Okay, let me know. Thank you, David."
She hung up, dropped her feet to the ground and swiveled back around, facing me with a smile. "I know it's a secretarial position. It's not photography, but you have an interview with her tomorrow."
"With who? Helen Gurley Brown?" I was in disbelief. Helen Gurley Brown was a celebrity. A famous author who'd been a regular on radio and television shows even though hosts like Merv Griffin and Jack Paar couldn't say the title of her book on the air.
"David's going to call back with the time. I'll let you know as soon as I hear from him. Meanwhile . . ." She scribbled an address down on a monogrammed notepad, tore the page free and slid it across the desk to me.
"Is she writing another book?"
"Actually, no. The Hearst Corporation just hired her to be the new editor in chief at Cosmopolitan magazine." Elaine shook her head, bewildered. "Last I heard, Hearst was folding Cosmopolitan. Then all of a sudden, they bring in Helen. Must be some sort of a last-ditch effort to save the magazine. Hearst isn't in the habit of hiring women for positions like that, and frankly, we're all scratching our heads, wondering how she landed the job. I'm sure David had something to do with it, seeing as Helen's never edited a magazine before. My lord, she's never even worked at a magazine." Elaine laughed at the absurdity of it all. "But I have worked with Helen. I was one of her editors for this." She tapped Sex and the Single Girl resting on her desk. "And while I don't agree with everything she says in here, I do think she's smart. And God knows she's got chutzpah."
The following morning, I arrived at 224 West 57th. I was in the lobby, waiting for the elevator, when two girls walked up beside me. They were about my age and the one, with white-blond hair teased and backcombed into a magnificent bouffant, pressed the call button a second time, as if that would make it come faster. The Bouffant was wearing a chartreuse triangle shift dress. The other girl, a brunette with a pixie and chandelier earrings that touched her shoulders, wore a short red and white checkered skirt with knee-high boots. Compared to them, I had a big Ohio stamped on my forehead, even in my best houndstooth sheath dress.
The elevator landed with a ding, and after the doors opened, in we went. The two girls chattered on the way up, oblivious when I exited behind them on the fourth floor and followed them into Cosmopolitan's lobby. Before they disappeared down a hallway, the Pixie noticed me, glancing back with a neutral expression before she turned again, leaving me behind. There was no one at the receptionist's desk, so I waited.
The office was not what I'd been expecting. It suffered from neglect. The carpet was worn to its frayed backing. The seat cushions of the leather chairs were cracked, a vein of white stuffing poking through. Even the dust clinging to the leaves on the plastic plants in the entranceway said to all who passed through those doors that the reading public had lost faith in the old gal.
Still no sign of the receptionist. To pass the time, I studied the covers from past issues strewn across the wall, hanging in cockeyed frames. I was surprised by what I saw. The Cosmopolitan magazine I knew was filled with casserole recipes and housekeeping tips, but the lobby walls told a different story. There was a plaque with a list of authors who'd written for the magazine going as far back as the 1800s, including Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Kipling and others. Among the covers hanging up was the April 1939 issue featuring Somerset Maugham's The Facts of Life. Pearl S. Buck had a novella published in March 1935. O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi was also published by Cosmopolitan.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Living in New York City had always been a dream of Alice’s mother, and Alice decided that is where she wanted to be so she could fulfill her mother’s dream. When Alice arrives, she finds New York as glamorous and frightening as she thought it would be, and she finds a job working with Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of COSMOPOLITAN, a pretty scandalous magazine for the 1960’s. We follow Alice as she works with and comforts Ms. Brown in the whirlwind office that Ms. Brown creates. Ms. Rosen definitely puts the reader into the story with her terrific descriptions of activity in and out of the office, and she brought 1960's New York alive as we were allowed to join in the daily lives of the characters. It was fun following Alice around and hoping she would fulfill her dreams of becoming a photographer. A few secrets about Alice's family kept the story line juicy along with stories of her love interest, Erik, even though it seems pretty difficult to be juicier than Ms. Helen Gurley Brown. Ms. Helen Gurley Brown certainly was someone to be reckoned with and someone who gave Alice the courage to keep on trying to reach her goals. PARK AVENUE SUMMER is filled with Renee Rosen's meticulous research, detailed description, and is an all-around-fun, educational read. The ending was heartwarming. If you have loved Ms. Rosen's other books, you are not going to want to miss reading this splendid, delightful read. 5/5 This book was given to me as an ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Alice Weiss leaves her small town to pursue a career in photography in Manhattan in 1965. She asks her mother's friend for a favor and soon realizes photography in Manhattan is a lot more competitive than in her small town, but her mother's friends comes through for her and gets her a job as an assistant to Helen Gurley Brown, who has just taken over Cosmopolitan magazine after writing her famous book, Sex and the Single Girl. Alice is a fan and can not believe her luck! But not everyone is a fan of Ms. Brown and a lot of people refuse to work for her and try to sabotage her work. Alice tries to maintain her own dreams even as she is swept up in the glamorous world of the New York elite, but fortunately, she has Helen Gurley Brown as her mentor! I loved this book and the glimpse into this part of the women's movement. In 2019, we still have a long way to go, but reading this and realizing how far we have come was definitely inspiring. It was interesting to see the perception of a strong women in 1965.
Alice Weiss fulfills her dream by leaving the Midwest to live in New York City. She has few skills and only one connection, a friend of her mother, who connects Alice to become the secretary of the now legendary Helen Gurley Brown. At the time of this novel’s account, the magazine Cosmopolitan is massively failing and Helen Gurley Brown is hired to revive it before it dies. Connected to the Hearst family, Helen gets the job but is expected to fail. However, no one realizes how vastly talented is this new Editor-in-Chief, no matter how crazy her ideas sound! Gurley envisions a new post-WWII woman, a woman who can work, have ideas and has unspoken thoughts about sex and fashion that are shocking and elicit rejection from all men and quite a few women as well. Imagine wondering, at that time in the 1960s, how one could improve one’s sex life, look sexier, stand out as powerful and capable women, and so much more. Staff on the magazine are quitting by droves and there are those who leak to the public Gurley’s ideas which in one sense gets attention, both negative and positive. Alice meanwhile learns the hard way not to trust fellow employees, both male and female. Sex seems to be a tool but Alice is too much of a strong woman, although horrified and intimidated at first, to become part of the manipulative betrayals happening throughout the office. She herself has apprentice-like skills as a photographer and meets Christopher, who mentors her and never goes beyond a professional and friendly stance, with a hint of something more looming in the future. When the July issue finally emerges, it has rave sales but Gurley still has to fight to have her ideas for the future emerge unscathed by the Hearst family. Park Avenue Summer is a delightful read, both for depicting the historical changes happening in a society wanting “more” in the personal and professional worlds. Nice job, Renee Rosen!
When Alice Weiss left her small town in Ohio for New York, she only had one aim: becoming a photographer. Yet, live wasn’t easy for an inexperienced young woman with high ambitions. A friend of her deceased mother arranged her an interview for the job of a secretary. Not exactly what Alice was looking for, but, well, she needed money and working for Helen Gurley Brown who had just taken over the Cosmo magazine seemed as good as any other job. What she didn’t expect was that her time as Helen’s right hand would bring her much more than just the money to survive: she learned to be ambitious, not to see marriage as the only goal for a woman and to stand up for herself. 1965 wasn’t quite ready for feminism and so wasn’t Alice. But things had to start finally. Renée Rosen tells the story of Helen Gurley Brown who published the bestseller “Sex and the Single Girl” before becoming editor-in-chief of “Cosmopolitan” and transforming the magazine from a housewife read to the most widely sold independent women’s magazine. Talking openly about sex was simply scandalous in 1965 and showing sexy pictures of women was also new in the magazine world, but it was especially her attitude that made a big change. The character of Alice Weiss, the protagonist of the novel, is yet just an invention, but one I highly adored while reading. Apart from all that is connected to Brown’s difficult start at the magazine, which I found quite interesting from today’s perspective, I liked Alice from the start. She is not the typical naive country girl coming to the big city. However, things are very different from what she was used to and she had to find her place in the Big Apple. Rosen portrays her in a very authentic way: she is sometimes insecure but ventures to overcome this and dares to speak for her own, she is working hard for her dream and does not give up even after horrendous experiences, she is at times torn between wanting to be independent and looking for a husband to marry. Also the way she describes New York of 1965 was wonderful, you are conquering the city together with Alice. A brilliant behind-the-scenes novel which skilfully combines fact and fiction and offers a girl’s story without being a kitschy love story, quite the contrary: it shows our mothers in fighting for female independence.
3.5 out of 5 Stars My Review: Helen Gurley Brown is the author of the spirited novel, Sex and the Single Girl, and is the small-but-fierce feminist the big wigs at Hearst decide to hire as Editor-in-Chief when they want to revamp their magazine, Cosmopolitan. It’s 1965 in New York; doctors are still refusing to prescribe single women the pill for fear of assisting to ‘ruin’ their lives, and it’s this breaking-of-the-1960s-housewife-mold that Alice dives head first into when she takes the job at Cosmo. She has just moved from the Midwest to the Big Apple to live out her dream of being a photographer. In the same spirit as The Devil Wears Prada, Ali has to take a position not as a photog, but as Brown’s assistant–to get her foot in the door of media publishing. While Brown is no Miranda Priestly, she has her own host of issues (crying spells being one of them), and Ali finds herself half the time in shock (tracking down back issues of Playboy is not what a nice girl should be doing) and half the time in awe (taking on a room full of potential marketing investors over lunch, anyone?) of her boss. Fast-paced, fun, sexy, and passionate, Rosen writes a lively period piece just in time to be your next quick summer beach read. Fans of Lauren Weisberger, Sophie Kinsella, and Maria Semple will enjoy. Trivia: Helen Gurley Brown really was the author of Sex and the Single Girl, and really was the Editor-in-Chief at Cosmo for 35 years! Renee Rosen was inspired to write a novel based on 1960s New York after binge watching Mad Men, and it turned in to Brown’s story at Cosmo! Read more about that here! ~*All the Love of Books From Me to You
Imagine a world when Cosmopolitan, the magazine, wasn’t a force in the magazine world… I can’t. Since I’ve been old enough to know what Cosmo is it has always been a go-to women’s magazine. From the sexy, eye-catching covers to the edgy titles on the cover Cosmo has always been a magazine that is on top of fashion and knowing what women want to read about. Helen Gurley Brown is the one who took Cosmo from a humdrum on the way out of business magazine to the one we all know and love now. The story is told by Helen’s secretary, Alice. The secretary is the woman who has the inside scoop on the who’s who, who’s out, and who’s in, and who is doing what with who. Alice comes to New York to start a dream life. She dreams of being a photographer but instead becomes the secretary to a woman who is breaking down walls and showing the men in the magazine world what she is capable of. I love the strength of the women in Park Avenue Summer. They show the men that they are capable of making a successful magazine. They prove that they can stand up for themselves and be successful in a world run by men. They have relationships that are what they want them to be, a marriage, a friendship, or just a convenience until the real thing comes along. This is an amazing historical fiction book with a great look into life in New York during 1965.
4.5 stars—PARK AVENUE SUMMER by Renee Rosen is a stand alone story of women’s historical fiction focusing on a young woman in 1965 whose short lived career as the personal secretary to Helen Gurley Brown jumpstarts a life of love, loss, and professional success as a world renowned photographer. Told from first person perspective (Alice) PARK AVENUE SUMMER follows twenty-one year old, single woman Alice Weiss as she ventures to New York City in 1965, to experience the life her late mother had always promised. With the help of her mother’s one time best friend Elaine Sloan, Alice will be hired as the personal secretary to Cosmopolitan’s new editor in Chief, Helen Gurley Brown, who along with Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem changed the world. As Helen struggles to keep Cosmo afloat, Alice battles the office gossip, lies, betrayal and manipulation, and her own heart breaking relationships. PARK AVENUE SUMMER is an imaginative retelling that takes liberty with the events surrounding the first few months following Helen Gurley Brown’s entry into the world of magazine publishing. From boardroom squabbles to rampant employee departures, through the eyes of twenty-one year old Alice Weiss, we are witness to period in time that started the feminist revolution in North America. Our heroine’s venture into the world of publication is the stepping stone to a successful career as a photographer for Cosmo, as well as several popular women’s magazines. A fascinating and captivating piece of women’s (historical) fiction meant to entertain and intrigue.
Renee Rosen, Author of "Park Avenue Summer" has written an intriguing, captivating, enlightening and thought-provoking novel. The Genres for this Novel are Fiction and Historical Fiction. The time-line of this story is 1965, and takes place in New York City. The author describes her characters as ambitious, competitive, complex and complicated. I love the way the author vividly describes her characters and landscape in this story. This reminds me of "Mad Men" and also the women's movement in the sixties. Alice Weiss, wants to be a photographer and leaves her small town to arrive in New York looking for a job. Alice goes to a friend of her late mother who sends her to work for Helen Gurley Brown, the first female Editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine. Helen Gurley Brown's responsibility is to bring the failing magazine back to life. Alice helps assist Helen, and is witness to the competition, betrayals, and difficulty still in a business that is still run by men. There seem to be reasons why certain people want to sabotage the magazine. Soon Alice is not sure who is her friend, and who will betray her. I appreciate that Renee Rosen brought us back to the sixties, and the memories that I have of that period. I would highly recommend this wonderful novel to readers who enjoy Historical Fiction. I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest review.
I'll admit to being surprised at how much I enjoyed this well written look at Helen Gurley Brown and, equally importantly, Alice Wiess, her fictional but oh so realistic assistant. I read Cosmo in the 1970s and less often in the 80s and 90s and so on but I never lost my admiration for Brown. What I found special about this entry into the "novel about a famous woman" genre is how carefully Rosen framed it. It's not, btw, set during the summer (don't know why that's the title) but it is set during a period of great change for young women. 1965 marked a real turning point; Ali is 22, she's lost one fiancé, sleeping with an exec at Hearst, in love with another man, and has drinks. And she has a role model not only in Brown but also in her mother's old friend Elaine. I became as invested in her as in Brown (I knew how that story would turn out). I was also a little surprised at Brown's lack of confidence about some things but that's part of the charm of the novel. Make sure yo read the afterword. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. This is a winner!
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