John Mack Carter: Good Guy, Great Editor

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John Mack Carter: Smart, respected,  and  remarkably successful.

 By Jack Limpert

John Mack Carter, who died September 26 at the age of 86, was a remarkably successful editor of women’s magazines, starting at Better Homes and Gardens in 1948 and then editing McCalls, Ladies Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping. After stepping down as editor of Good Housekeeping in 1994, he helped Hearst start Marie Claire and other magazines.

He did this as the role of women in society, and journalism, changed in big ways. In 1970, his office at Ladies Home Journal was stormed by 100 women who demanded he resign in favor of a woman. He stayed, pushing the magazine, in his words, “to reflect women’s changing roles and needs.”

How did he edit so well for more than 50 years?

In the 1980s and 1990s, I crossed paths with him at meetings of the American Society of Magazine Editors and the judging of the National Magazine Awards. The judging was a two-day process at Columbia University, and on the morning of the second day, John Mack always hosted a breakfast for about 25 editors in the kitchen-dining room area of Good Housekeeping. I think he invited me—and some other editors— because we were outsiders in the clubby world of New York editors. It was a chance for us out-of-towners to be inside the club for a couple of hours and John presided the way I suspect he edited: He was welcoming, he ran things with a light hand, he asked good questions, he listened a lot more than he talked.

I played basketball all through school and for many years after. There are two kinds of players—the scorers, who often get the most attention, and the players who help the scorers. To help the scorers, you play defense, rebound, set screens, and find the open man. There also are two kinds of editors. The scorers make it clear that they are in charge, they talk more than they listen, and they make clear that the magazine would be nothing without them.

John Mack was the second kind of editor. He was smart in the different ways editors can be smart, he listened, he brought out the best in others. Doing it his way, he was respected, admired, very successful, and he had one of the great runs in the history of magazine editing. Rest in peace, John Mack, and thanks from all us outsiders.

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