PW: So... what's the story behind Dear Pussycat?
Helen Gurley Brown: One of the Cosmo editors was at St. Martin's Press discussing her own book. They knew she used to work for me and told her that I was one of their authors. She said, "You know, everybody hangs on to her letters." They asked why, and she said it was because the letters were very flattering. So I got a call from St. Martin's Press asking if I still had them. The ones I'd written to the staff, I still had; others, we just set out to collect them.
PW: There must have been hundreds! How were you able to narrow down the selection?
HGB: Oh, it was a massive sorting out and culling—thousands had been discovered. Some were to famous people, so I felt those would make the book more interesting. Others I'd written to hotels, surgeons, restaurants, et cetera, thanking them for their good service. Plus, the letters aren't too long—it's not the most boring thing in the world to read them. I even included a few angry letters. Although I think if you have something rotten to say, call up.
PW: What does the title mean?
HGB: "Pussycat" is my favorite term of endearment for people, especially people I don't know very well. I always long to say something more personal than "dear," and in my letters I always call people that!
PW: How did you become, as the jacket text calls you, a "master of correspondence"?
HGB: From liking to communicate with people. I am a compulsive, passionate, irredeemable, unstoppable letter writer. I'm a better writer than a talker, and I can persuade better in writing. Writing letters is a simple way to write—people will read a letter, whereas they might not necessarily read an article. I had that early success with the letter I wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt [asking him to write a letter to her sister, who, like him, was stricken with polio]. Plus, I keep a diary.
PW: Did you actually keep all your correspondence?
HGB: No, I'm afraid I didn't. But [after I left home] I wrote my mother and sister a letter every day, and my mother kept all the letters. I have a childhood girlfriend in Little Rock, Ark.—we're still friends—and she kept every letter, too. At Cosmo, on the computers we have all the correspondence since 1980; before that, we had carbons, but we don't have anything from the years 1965 to 1980. But we do have from 1980 to 2003. And a few friends kept letters I sent to them, so I got them to send me copies for the book.
PW: Do you think that letter-writing, as you do it, is a waning practice?
HGB: I think it is—it's a little antique. I think not to write letters is a loss. But in the book I don't tell people how to write letters. I'm not pushing people to do it; it's simply my own conviction that people love to get letters. We all love to go to the mailbox and pull out a letter that's written just to you, and especially if it's something flattering! People loved to be thanked and complimented. So if you want to be popular and make people happy, write a letter.
PW: Do you really still use a Royal manual typewriter?
HGB: Yes, it's sitting right here at my elbow. The Royal typewriter is from my secretarial days. I like the paper to be there, where I can see it and look at it. I never liked electric typewriters: when you turn one on, the motor starts, and it's like having a meter on, reminding you, "Now it's time to get down to work." So they always intimidated me. We all have our idiosyncrasies.