A New York Times piece from over the weekend details the complicated status of former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown’s estate, introducing the world to the women at Hearst primarily tasked with controlling her words, her money, and her apartment: Eve Burton, general counsel and vice president at the Hearst Corporation, and Kim St. Clair Bodden, the senior vice president and editorial director of Hearst Magazines International.
Since Brown’s death in 2012, her estate—via a nonprofit called the Pussycat Foundation—has been responsible for donating vast sums of money to journalism education and libraries, as well as founding programs that teach girls to code (Brown had no children and her husband died two years before her). Much of that work, according to the Times, has been led by Burton, who joined Hearst in 2002 after time at CNN and The New York Daily News, where she met Brown. “I am the keeper of the brand,” Burton, the co-executor of Brown’s will, told the Times.
But as is the case when anyone dies, things have gotten complicated. Burton is responsible for doling out the $105 million the Browns left behind, of which $73 million has already been donated. But their famed apartment on Central Park West in the Beresford still has not been sold, which is the subject of much consternation by the building’s residents (and real estate gossips on Streeteasy).
After Ms. Brown died, Ms. Burton, as her co-executor and co-trustee (along with Mr. Bennack), had a discussion about the apartment, which is held in trust and whose sale will benefit Pussycat, with John Phufas, a member of the Beresford board and a lawyer.
The rules of the co-op dictate that an estate without an heir who is an immediate family member must sell the apartment as soon as possible. Ms. Burton asked for some time before selling, so she could unwind the estate, and Mr. Phufas was fine with that.
“Estates from notable people and with complicated trusts often take years to settle,” he said.
But patience began to dwindle a few months ago when Ms. Burton told Mr. Phufas that she wanted the trust to continue to own the apartment.
“That is a wish,” he said. “Wishes are one thing and legal obligations are another.” He later added: “We told them they have to sell it ASAP. Our common courtesy commitment has been fully fulfilled.”
Ms. Burton initially said of the board, “We are in a battle with them to let us keep it.” She later attributed the delay at least in part to renovation on the building’s facade and tower. “We couldn’t sell it because the roof was leaky,” she said.
Outside of the apartment, Burton is also responsible for all of Brown’s papers, which have been donated to Smith College (apparently because Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem went there: “Two of Helen’s nemeses went to Smith and David wanted her papers alongside theirs,” Burton said. I’d counter that “nemeses” is probably not the right word to use for both Friedan and Steinem, but perhaps that’s splitting hairs). She’s given the overseeing of this responsibility to Kim St. Clair Bodden.
But besides Jennifer Scanlon, who penned the biography Bad Girls Go Everywhere, those who have attempted works about Brown in recent years are finding it difficult to get access to these archives, as controlled by Burton and Bodden. Gerri Hirshey, who is working on a new biography about Brown set to be published in 2016, says Hearst employees have backed out of talking to her, and that she hasn’t been allowed access to Brown’s documents. Brooke Hauser, working on The Invention of Helen Gurley Brown and the Rise of the Modern Single Woman (also to be published in 2016) told the Times she has not asked for access (this is despite the fact that her book draws “on new interviews with Helen’s friends and former colleagues as well as her personal letters”).
“My understanding is that they are protective of Helen and her image,” Ms. Hauser said cautiously.
On their website, Smith notes that, “Helen Gurley Brown’s estate retains copyright ownership of her papers. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond ‘fair use.’”
The entire Times piece is worth a read, if only because it outlines how complicated estate management can get, especially if the person in question set themselves up to function essentially as a brand. Knowing what we know about how particular Brown was about how she lived her life, it’s unsurprising that these vastly powerful women who have been tasked with upholding her legacy are tight-lipped. And it’s not a coincidence that they are women who are tied to the company that was essentially her entire life. In the piece, there is but one mention of a third party, a Roger P. Paschke, who is the lone male officer of the Pussycat Foundation—but he too works at Hearst, as the chief investment officer there.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images of Kim St. Clair Bodden, left, and Eve Burton, right, via Hearst