Cosmopolitan Magazine Editor Kate White: My Weirdest Days At Work

Kate White Cosmopolitan magazine editor

By Kate White


Did you ever see that fun, wacky '90s television show called "Just Shoot Me"? It was all about working at Blush, a fictional women's magazine. One day I noticed that the set and props were very similar to stuff we had at Cosmopolitan.

When I asked my entertainment director about it, she said that a couple people from the show had visited our offices one day, taken pictures and then incorporated some of the details. It seemed kind of ironic to me.

Because in my 14 years running Cosmo, I often felt like I was on a television show. Things could get wild, crazy and hilarious. (Yes, that's me above at a typical day of work.) Here's a sample of some of the crazier days I had.

The Day I Started

I never actually applied for the job as editor of Cosmo. My boss just had me come into her office one Sunday and told me that the company wanted me to take over. Since the news would be announced the next day, I had no chance to shop for new clothes. The only thing from my Redbook wardrobe that seemed the least bit hip was this sleeveless pink shift dress, so that's what I went with on Day One.

I arrived to find almost everyone on the Cosmo staff dressed entirely in black. I felt like a high school principal who'd accidentally stumbled into a hip, downtown bar. My eyes were drawn immediately to a guy in the art department who was wearing a vest from a pin-striped three-piece suit with no shirt underneath. On one of his bulging biceps was a tattoo of a huge heart. All I could think was, "I'm so not in Kansas anymore."


The Day The Sex Doctor Came Bearing Gifts

Soon after I started, I decided to arrange regular salons for the staff, with interesting guest speakers. Why not start with a sex therapist, I thought. Cosmo covered sex candidly, and I figured it would valuable for the articles editors to learn what the sex therapist's patients were concerned with these days.

When I walked into the conference room for the salon, I discovered-much to my horror -- that she had set each place at the table with an anatomically correct sex toy. I had to explain that we weren't interested in instruction and please put those things away.

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The Day I Went To Lunch -- Sort Of -- With Ludacris

While at Cosmo, I got to meet a ton of celebrities, and sometimes even share meals with them. Unfortunately, that's not nearly as fun as you'd think. Most celebrities seem uncomfortable with people not of their ilk and are as about as likely to ask a question about you as they are to show up on the carpet wearing a Breath Rite nasal strip. That means time alone with them can be a tad awkward.

One of the trickiest celeb meals I ever had was with Ludacris. He was very nice but the only thing he ordered that day was a glass of water, which meant we couldn't even make small talk about the food.


The Day Goldie Hawn Taught Me About Orgasms

One celeb who turned out to be really fun to talk to was Goldie Hawn. She was working on a script about an editor-in-chief and asked if she could come by my office and learn about the job.

At one point she was describing a scene where a character fakes an orgasm and she gave me a taste of the sound effects, kind of like Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally." I could see staffers from the bullpen outside my office look up in shock, their jaws nearly falling to the ground.

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The Day Helen Gurley Brown Called Me Crazy

After I'd worked at Cosmo for a few months, Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmo's legendary editor-in-chief for 32 years, asked me to drop by her office. Since I didn't report to her, I figured she just wanted to catch up.

But when I arrived, I discovered that she wanted to critique the first issue published since I'd arrived. After she was halfway through, I politely stopped her and said that I was happy to hear her comments, but I thought it was best to wait a few months until the issues better reflected my plans for the magazine.

But the very next month I got a call from her assistant, asking me to come by for another critique. I told her to please tell Helen it was best to wait a few months and that I'd be in touch.

Several days later a letter arrived from Helen. It started with the phrase, "What are you -- some kind of crazy girl?" Oy. I admired Helen fiercely and had to do some fancy footwork to smooth things over. We got along very well after that, though I was amused to see she published that letter in her book Dear Pussycat, a collection of notes she's written and received.


Speaking of Pussycats, The Day The Tiger Came To Visit

Though my Cosmo salons got off to a rough start, I didn't give up on the idea. Over the years I had dozens of salons with all types of guest speakers. My all-time favorite was with animal expert Dave Salmoni, who brought a 13-week-old tiger in with him. The staff went nuts.

It was exhilarating to watch that gorgeous tiger pace up and down on the conference table, stopping only to chow down on some raw chicken.

And it was a lot better than the sex toys.

My Last Day: Bittersweet

I'd loved my 14 years at Cosmo, but I felt eager for a change and a chance to promote my career book. Plus, how long can you go on writing cover lines like "Mattress Moves So Hot His Thighs Will Burst into Flames"?


Kate White, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine for 14 years, is a New York Times bestselling author of both fiction and non-fiction books, including I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know, on sale now.


Five Tips on How to Be Successful At Your Job, from Kate White




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