(1900 to 1987)
Claim to fame: Edited major and minor magazines but is best remembered for turning McCall’s into a state-of-the art mass-market title of the late 1950s and ‘60s.
Quote: “Editors become editors by editing.”
Another one: “The prime objective of a magazine is to survive.”
Life in 300 words or so: A high school dropout, at age 15, Mayes rose through magazine after magazine, first trade titles like American Druggist, then consumer ones. He became editor of Pictorial Review, at that time a big-deal magazine, in 1934, and of Good Housekeeping in 1938. He held that job for 20 years, before becoming editor of McCall’s in 1958.
Taking over McCall’s at age 58, Mayes decided to remake it totally and on two fronts, bringing in the best and highest paid writers as well as their peers in photography and illustration. Certainly it didn’t hurt that his boss, the millionaire conglomerate owner, art collector, and philanthropist Norton Simon had signed for Mayes what was essentially a blank check. “Forget about budgets,” Mayes remembered Simon telling him, “spend what you need, don’t be afraid to spend.”
When’s the last time any of us heard an instruction like that?
Mayes retired from McCall’s in 1965 but wasn’t through with editing. In 1974, the syndicated newspaper columnist Bob Considine reported that Mayes was publishing a London-based fortnightly called The Overseas American, packed with such timely information as the impact of the energy crisis on Scandinavian prostitutes.
An interesting glimpse of Mayes appears in Judith Krantz’s 2000 memoir, “Sex & Shopping.” Long before she became a popular novelist, she took a job with Mayes, a family friend, then editing Good Housekeeping. Recalled Krantz, “He was a giant among perfectionists, he was unrelenting in his criticism, he barked the most unbelievably insulting things to people, he had no sensitivity to any feelings, no matter how justified, his progress down a hall of the magazine was preceded by a wave of fear, editorial meetings were mass anxiety attacks. His employees spent entire lunches whispering together, comparing monster stories about him.” Otherwise she seems to have liked him.
Mayes died in 1987, at age 87.
For more: Mayes’s memoir, “The Magazine Maze: A Prejudiced Perspective” (Doubleday, 1980), has more to say about the art, science, and voodoo of editing than any other such book I’ve read. His quotes above come from it. An interesting account of McCall’s in the messy post-Mayes years is included in Ed Fitzgerald’s memoir, “A Nickel an Inch” (Atheneum, 1986). Fitzgerald, who will probably be covered here at a later date, was also the editor of Sport magazine. In the meantime, Sport fans may enjoy this Web site. -- Greg Daugherty, 11/08