11 Administrative Professionals Who Became Famous

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Secretaries, receptionists, and other administrative professionals perform tasks that are vital to many companies. But because their work is often supportive and behind-the-scenes, it may go unnoticed or under-appreciated. In honor of Administrative Professionals Day on April 26, take a look at some famous secretaries and administrative assistants.

1. JOAN RIVERS

After graduating from Barnard College in 1954, Joan Rivers worked as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center, a fashion publicist, and a secretary for Irvin Arthur, who was a successful talent agent and nightclub booker. During the day, she answered Arthur’s office phone—sometimes performing her monologue to callers before handing the phone over to her boss. At night, she did stand-up at clubs in New York City. Arthur discouraged Rivers from pursuing comedy, and he reportedly told her that she was already too old to make it. Rivers certainly proved him wrong, becoming one of the most successful female comedy stars.

2. JEREMY BERNARD

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In 2011, Jeremy Bernard became the White House’s first male (and first openly gay) Social Secretary. The role involved planning all of the White House’s official social events, including state dinners, Medal of Honor ceremonies, and teas hosted by former FLOTUS Michelle Obama. Bernard also helped Obama compile guest lists, choose decorations, and select invitations for events. During his four years as Social Secretary, Bernard was profiled by Vogue and became a well-known figure in Washington, D.C.

3. HELEN GURLEY BROWN

By John Bottega, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Helen Gurley Brown—born in Arkansas in 1922—took a few college classes at a Texas college before going to secretarial school. In the 1940s, she worked 17 different secretarial jobs around Los Angeles, including at a radio station and an ad agency. She later recalled how her male bosses would regularly fondle the secretaries, trying to see their underwear.

After working as a secretary, Brown became an advertising copywriter and wrote Sex and the Single Girl, an advice book aimed at unmarried women. The book, published in 1962, became a bestseller and was turned into a film. From 1965 to 1997, Brown was Cosmopolitan’s editor in chief, turning the magazine from a more traditional, literary publication to one that candidly covered sex and women’s issues.

4. CARLY FIORINA

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Before she ran for president (and later vice president) in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Cara "Carly" Fiorina worked as a secretary. To earn money to attend Stanford University, the Texas native worked as a receptionist at a hair salon and, during summers, took secretary jobs through a temp agency. She went on to enroll at the UCLA School of Law and dropped out after one semester.

Then, Fiorina worked as a secretary again, typing and filing for a nine-person real estate firm. Her bosses increased her responsibilities and eventually she found her way back to school, getting an MBA and going to work for AT&T and Lucent. She became the CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 1999, making her the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company.

5. URSULA BURNS

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Ursula Burns was born in a New York City housing project in 1958 and grew up poor with a single mother and two siblings. After studying mechanical engineering at Brooklyn Polytechnic (now New York University Tandon School of Engineering), she worked toward a master’s degree in engineering at Columbia University. She also interned in upstate New York with Xerox’s engineering program for minorities, which paid for some of her education. Burns worked her way up through the Xerox corporate ladder throughout the 1980s and '90s, serving as an executive assistant to Xerox’s vice president of marketing and customer operations and, later, as a secretary to the company’s chairman and CEO.

In 2009, Burns became the chairwoman and CEO of Xerox—and the first female, African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She expanded the company from copying and printing to a tech company. Today, Burns is active in helping students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, succeed in STEM fields.

6. BETTE NESMITH GRAHAM

After secretarial school, Bette Nesmith Graham moved to Dallas, Texas and became an executive secretary for a Texas bank. The single mother went on to work on an IBM electric typewriter in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, the device's design made it difficult to neatly erase typos. Worried that she’d lose her job every time she made a typing error, Graham thought of a solution after she saw artists painting holiday decorations on the bank windows and remembered from her own art background that artists would often just paint over their mistakes.

Graham tried brushing a white, water-based paint onto the paper to cover her typos. Her idea worked. Calling her correcting fluid “Mistake Out,” Graham sold her invention to other secretaries and, in 1958, renamed it "Liquid Paper." She sold her company to Gillette Corporation for almost 50 million dollars in 1979.

7. EVELYN LINCOLN

The National Archives and Records Administration

Evelyn Lincoln, born in Polk County, Nebraska in 1909, was the daughter of a prominent Nebraskan politician. She studied law at George Washington University and went on to work as a Congressional aide until 1953, when she began working for a new Massachusetts senator, John F. Kennedy. When her boss became president, Lincoln worked in an office next to his in the White House. Lincoln was intimately involved in the president’s daily life, and she served as his secretary until his death. (She was riding in his motorcade when he was assassinated in 1963.) After Kennedy's death, Lincoln worked as a secretary for other politicians, wrote two memoirs, and donated the JFK papers she saved to the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

8. J.K. ROWLING

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Although it’s widely known that J.K. Rowling struggled financially before finishing the first Harry Potter title, you might not know that she worked as a secretary at Amnesty International’s London headquarters. To pay her rent, she took notes and translated for the human rights organization’s research department. "There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them," she told Harvard Magazine. "I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.”

Rowling was reportedly fired from her secretarial job because she was distracted by her desire to write about a boy wizard…and the rest is magical history.

9. ROSE MARY WOODS

The National Archives and Records Administration

Rose Mary Woods began working as a secretary for Senator Richard Nixon in 1951. Woods, who had already been working as a secretary in Washington, D.C., became Nixon’s confidante, working for him for decades. In 1974, Woods gave grand jury testimony in which she tried to explain her role in the notorious 18.5 minutes of missing audio from a Watergate tape.

The Ohio native apologized for pressing the wrong button and recording over about five minutes of the tape and she became infamous for demonstrating how she allegedly made the mistake. Dubbed the Rose Mary stretch, she stretched back for the telephone while her foot simultaneously hit the transcription machine’s pedal. Nixon told Woods first when he decided to resign, and he asked her to tell his wife and daughters for him. He later wrote that he considered Woods as a member of his family. After Nixon resigned from the presidency, Woods continued to work as his secretary before working for other politicians.

10. BARBARA WALTERS

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Barbara Walters has interviewed everyone from Mother Teresa and Maya Angelou to Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1931, the famous broadcast journalist graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in English. Before starting her career at The Today Show, Walters worked as a secretary for the publicity director of WRCA-TV, an NBC affiliate in New York.

11. NAOMI JUDD

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In the 1980s and early '90s, The Judds, Naomi and her daughter Wynonna, were one of the most successful country musical groups. The duo sold millions of albums, won Grammy Awards, and toured the world. But before she was a country superstar, Naomi supported herself and her two daughters with gigs as a waitress in Los Angeles. She applied for a job as a receptionist for the 5th Dimension, the pop group famous for songs "Up, Up and Away" and "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In."

Naomi didn’t get the receptionist job, but she worked in the same office as a secretary for a talent agent for a few months. Naomi later revealed the reason she took the secretary job: She couldn’t afford a car, and the office was just a couple of blocks from where she lived.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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The Unkindest Cut: A History of the Bowl Cut

Jim Carrey, one hideous bowl cut, and Jeff Daniels star in Dumb and Dumber (1994).
Jim Carrey, one hideous bowl cut, and Jeff Daniels star in Dumb and Dumber (1994).
Warner Home Video

Moses Horwitz dreaded going to school. It was 1903, and the 6-year-old Brooklynite found himself at the mercy of cruel children who would tease him ruthlessly. Their taunting was directed at his hair, long and finger-curled by his mother before class. It was a style deemed more appropriate for girls of the era, and the boys made sure Moses knew it. Even the girls thought it strange. He was heckled before, during, and after school.

This went on for years. One day, at age 11, Moses decided to do something about it.

Over at a friend’s house, he impulsively grabbed a pair of scissors, closed his eyes, and began trimming his hair in a blind circle. When he opened them, his friends were laughing. Moses had crafted a bowl cut—a straight line around his entire head. It was not exactly flattering, but it reduced the number of bloody noses he had to endure.

The cut would eventually prove useful for Moses, who later took on the stage name Moe Howard and formed The Three Stooges comedy team—all while maintaining that trademark hairstyle.

Moe Howard (L) was famous for his bowl cut.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The origins of the bowl cut extend far beyond Moe Howard. The style was common among European men in the 12th through 15th centuries as well as Russian serfs in the 18th century. The appeal was simple: It was a style that could be achieved with no skill, no brushing, and at virtually no cost. It also straddled the line between the longer styles that went in and out of vogue in the Middle Ages and the shorter cuts favored by soldiers and religious leaders. Men of greater means often accessorized the cut with elaborate hats.

While the style persisted, it’s not clear when it adopted the names bowl cut or soup bowl cut, or whether anyone actually used a bowl as a guide. But by the time the Great Depression hit in the late 1920s and '30s, an economical way of trimming hair at home became a popular choice for households trying to conserve funds. Sitting a child in a chair and snipping in a circle was something virtually anyone could do.

The bowl cut, it seemed, prospered wherever haircuts were prohibitively expensive. In 1951, Vancouver residents balked at barbers raising the price for a cut to 85 cents by buying trimmers and electric clippers to shape bowl cuts at home.

The bowl cut experienced another surge in the 1960s, though this time it owed more to fashion than the economy. When the original members of the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best, and Stu Sutcliffe—went on tour in Hamburg, Germany, in 1960, they befriended a group of art students including Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Vollmer. Kirchherr and Sutcliffe fell in love. When she agreed to give Sutcliffe a haircut, she emulated the bowl style popular among art students at the time. Harrison requested the same thing. Later, when Lennon and McCartney visited Vollmer in Paris, they got similar cuts.

By the time the Beatles arrived stateside in 1964, the group—now minus Sutcliffe and Best, but having added Ringo Starr—was sporting what TIME magazine dubbed the “mushroom” haircut. The band’s fanatical followers emulated the style.

The Beatles got their look while touring in Hamburg, Germany.Keystone/Getty Images

Though the group's hairstyles would later mirror the long hair of the late 1960s and 1970s, the bowl cut had at least earned some level of respectability. It was a common feature of child stars in the 1970s, including Adam Rich of Eight is Enough fame, and later got a featured spot when actor Jake Lloyd grabbed the look while playing young Anakin Skywalker in 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. But adults adopting the style was often shorthand for imbecility or mental disturbances. Jim Carrey sported a bowl cut in 1994’s Dumb and Dumber. So did Javier Bardem, as philosophical hitman Anton Chigurh, in 2007’s No Country for Old Men.

More recently, the bowl cut has taken on some sinister connotations. The style has been used in memes advocating far-right and white supremacist beliefs after Dylann Roof was seen with the cut following his 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine people. In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League added the bowl cut to its list of hate symbols. It's a rather ignoble fate for what was once simply a silly haircut, one which may never again have the respectability and dignity afforded to it by Moe Howard.