“People think chutzpah is in the genes. It isn’t.. it’s in the needing and wanting and being willing to fall on your face. It isn’t fun.. who wants all that rejection, but life is sweeter if you make yourself do uncomfortable things.” – Helen Gurley Brown.
Helen Gurley Brown did something wonderful for me in 1972, and it had nothing to do with learning how to enjoy sex. She gave the green light to her articles editor at Cosmopolitan, the magazine she ran, for me to write an article called “What is Chutzpah and How Do You Get it.” I was 25 and had sent a query letter in the mail (how quaint) outlining how I’d approach the subject. In the last century, the only ones who used the word “chutzpah” were those who understood at least a smattering of Yiddish. Even if a woman knew what it meant, few possessed it. I was lucky to be born with the chutzpah gene. Helen didn’t believe it was in the genes, however, and she was determined to teach her legions of readers how to get it. My article idea was right up her alley!
I was off during the day on Fridays, from my full-time job writing headlines for a newspaper, so I spent them interviewing women to gather chutzpah anecdotes and write the article. It was a long article, 3,000 words, but the magazine paid a ridiculous amount of money, a dollar a word. I made $125 a week. If all went well, I was going to get the equivalent of almost a half a year’s salary.
The editor with whom I worked loved the piece, but Helen had to bless every single article before it was permitted to enter the hallowed pages of her magazine. I’m not kidding when I say hallowed. Helen knew exactly what was going to sell magazines, from the photos to the cover cut lines (48 foolproof ways to orgasm!) and she didn’t bend her rules. Many articles would be rejected, even after Cosmo commissioned them. In those cases, the writer would get a “kill fee,” and although it was generous, it didn’t make up for having Helen give your work a thumb’s down.
When the articles editor called to tell me Helen loved my submission, I was ecstatic. She also sent me a copy of the article with Helen’s notes scribbled in the margins and I flipped when I saw her praise all over the place. This would be my very first byline, and it was going to be in one of the hottest magazines in the world.
Readers loved the article and Cosmo even reprinted it in some international editions, so I like to think that my musings on chutzpah helped to give lots of women the nerve to do things they never thought of doing before.
Helen surely did that, month in and month out, when she told us how to be bold at work and, of course, in bed. More than a brilliant editor, she believed in the power of women long before they believed in it themselves. I wrote an article on it; she wrote the book.