Producer of Angela's Ashes and Jaws and managing editor who helped spice up Cosmopolitan magazine
Published 14/03/2010 | 05:00
David Brown, who has died aged 93, became a successful Hollywood film producer but in an earlier career as a journalist helped devise the format for Cosmopolitan magazine.
With Brown's third wife, Helen Gurley Brown, as editor, the magazine, in its present form, was launched in 1965. David Brown edited the famously raunchy personal column, written by his wife, in which women readers sought advice on sex and relationships, and for 32 years wrote all the provocative come-on blurbs for the magazine's cover, such as "How to date eight men at once and get away with it" to the even saucier, "Five things that can blow a job interview."
In the unseemly scramble that was Hollywood, Brown -- an urbane New Yorker renowned for his courtly manners and wardrobe -- proved to have the Midas touch, a feat that owed much to his gentlemanly background in publishing. With his nose for a story, and enviable contacts with publishers and agents, Brown's success with such blockbusting films as The Sting (1973) and Jaws (1975) was assured.
As a journalist Brown had contributed to magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's and Collier's before becoming managing editor of Cosmopolitan, founded in 1883. It had published Steinbeck, Hemingway and Winston Churchill, but by the late Fifties had become virtually moribund.
In 1959 his wife -- fearing she was about to be sacked from her job as an advertising copywriter -- asked him to suggest an idea for a book she might write. Having stumbled on some carbon copies of her letters to a former boyfriend, Brown recognised his wife's winning style and advised her to write for and about the single woman.
The result was Sex and the Single Girl (1962), in which Helen Gurley Brown celebrated the hitherto seldom-acknowledged fact that single women had sex before marriage. "Theoretically, a 'nice' single woman has no sex life," she declared. "What nonsense! She has a better sex life than most of her married friends."
The revolutionary book was such a huge bestseller that Brown and his wife decided to capitalise on the phenomenon by launching their own magazine. In the summer of 1964 they came up with a format to be called Femme, but executives at the Hearst Corporation decided instead to superimpose the Browns' ideas on the ailing Cosmopolitan title, aiming it at 18- to 35-year-old women -- "Cosmo" girls -- with a feminist formula of sex, orgasms, careers, affairs and self-fulfillment.
The sexually explicit mix was as big a hit as the book, and the reinvented magazine became the Hearst empire's most profitable asset. The British edition made its appearance in 1972; the magazine is now published in 47 editions worldwide.
David Brown was born in Manhattan on July 28, 1916. His parents divorced when he was a boy, and he was brought up by his mother. He once remarked that he came by his interest in the written word almost genetically: "I was reading the New York Times at age five."
At Stanford he intended to study physics but switched to journalism and, after graduating in 1936, worked for the Wall Street Journal and Women's Wear Daily. During the Second World War, he served in the US Army from 1943 as a lieutenant in the psychological warfare section of military intelligence.
On demobilisation, Brown returned to Liberty magazine, where he had been non-fiction editor, to become fiction editor and subsequently executive editor and editor-in-chief. He moved to Cosmopolitan as managing editor in 1949, and in 1951 moved into films, becoming head of the story department at 20th Century Fox under the studio head Darryl F Zanuck. Brown rose to become executive vice-president of creative operations.
With Zanuck's son Richard, he left Fox in 1971 for Warner Brothers, and the following year the pair decided to form their own production company. One of their first films, The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, won seven Academy Awards, including best picture. The following year they hired Steven Spielberg to direct a thriller about a predatory shark, adapted from Peter Benchley's novel, Jaws, which became an enormous hit.
Brown and Zanuck's other successes included The Verdict, a legal drama starring Paul Newman; and Driving Miss Daisy, about an elderly Jewish woman and the black chauffeur who becomes her friend. The film, starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, won four Oscars, including best picture. Among other films with which he was associated were Chocolat and Angela's Ashes.
Late in life he also had success on Broadway with stage shows including Sweet Smell of Success (2002), based on the film about a press agent and a powerful gossip columnist, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2005), adapted from the film starring Steve Martin.
David Brown, who died on February 1, was thrice married, his first two marriages ending in divorce. He married Helen Gurley Brown in 1959 and she survives him.