Paul Greenberg

Editor and celebrity Brown knew better than to take her quip too seriously, as her happy marriage/love affair of 51 years attested. But she talked, wrote and sold a great game. And was 90 when she finally threw in her cards the other day.

Maybe she didn't raise the standards of American taste, but at least she took some of the starchier prejudices out of it. And her own tastes were certainly better than those who confused what she wrote with literature.

In whatever category her own prose fell, Editor Brown could spot quality in that of others, and could sum it up in a pithy phrase. Her most memorable editorial judgment may have been scribbled on a submission from a contributor to Cosmopolitan named Florence King, whom Ms. Brown always addressed by the reversed salutation, "Florence Dear," but whom connoisseurs of American prose will know as a thinker, delight, misanthrope, conservative lesbian feminist, and Southerner par excellence. And that scarcely covers her complexity.

Miss King must have needed the money to wind up publishing her stuff in Cosmo's pages, but don't we all need some at one time or another? Which would explain those bodice-rippers and porno pulps she'd punch out for fun and profit under a nom de plume, or at least nom de typewriter. ("Nothing is more frustrating than sitting in an office amid typewriters and mimeographers when you know what deus ex machina means." --King, F.)

If the distinguishing traits of the Southern character are identity, complexity and eccentricity, Miss Florence has 'em all plus a subversive depth behind her devastating wit. All of which Helen Gurley Brown summed up in her note on that submission to Cosmo: "Well, we never get anything pippy-poo from Florence, she's always so warpy-and-woofy."

Brevity is the soul of good editorial judgment as well as wit. Who says Helen Gurley Brown wasn't a great writer? At least in her editorial notes. For it takes one to tell one. The moral of her life story: Never underestimate a little girl from ... Green Forest, Ark.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.