Herbert R. Mayes built a reputation as one of the country's most respected magazine editors at Good Housekeeping and McCall's. Having headed Good Housekeeping, a Hearst publication, for 20 years, Mr. Mayes took over at McCall's, one of its main rivals, in 1958. He retired as president and chief executive of the McCall Corporation in 1965.
Reared in a Harlem tenement, Mr. Mayes's formal education ended when his father's death forced him to take a job at the age of 15, with only one semester of high school to his credit.
At 20, after working as a messenger and stenographer, he answered a help-wanted advertisement for a trade-book editor. Despite his minimal qualifications, he won the job and in short order found himself editor, reporter and sole staff member of a trade publication for small-town retailers called The Inland Merchant, with a circulation of 4,000.
In 1927, he joined the Hearst Corporation as managing editor of The American Druggist and became editor of Pictorial Review, a now-defunct woman's magazine, from 1934 to 1937. He became managing editor of Good Housekeeping in 1937 and editor the next year.
Mr. Mayes surprised people in the industry when he switched to McCall's. Less surprising to them was that under his stewardship the magazine overtook Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal in circulation and advertising revenues.
To do so, Mr. Mayes ordered sweeping changes in McCall's format, providing more and bolder color pages as well as more fiction.
Mr. Mayes was elected president and chief executive of the McCall Corporation in 1962. This put him in charge of a $100 million-a-year organization whose various divisions then printed 53 national magazines and produced pattern books.
As an author, Mr. Mayes caused a stir in 1928 with the publication of ''Alger, A Biography Without a Hero,'' an essay on the real, pathetic life of Horatio Alger Jr. Other books, including ''The Magazine Maze: A Prejudiced Perspective,'' published in 1980, recounted Mr. Mayes's own experiences.