The Press: Man in a Woman's World

  • Share
  • Read Later

The wonder about most wonder boys is whatever became of them. But no one in the magazine field has to ask what happened to Otis L. Wiese. Twenty years ago this week he was hired by McCall's as a cub assistant. A year later, at 23, he was editor, and took the floundering magazine and its 2,000,000 ladies by the hand. Last week they were still holding hands; the magazine had long stopped floundering and the ladies numbered 3,600,000.

Wiese went to New York in 1926 with a degree from the University of Wisconsin, a letter of introduction to book critic Harry Hansen and an itch to edit. Hansen introduced him to McCall's Editor Harry Payne Burton, who hired him. A few months later, when the temperamental Burton left, William B. Warner, president of McCall's board, asked young Wiese to tell him in writing what ought to be done to improve McCall's. Warner thought Wiese's first report too frivolous, asked for another. Wiese handed it in one morning, came back after lunch to find that he was the new editor. He shuddered at his heritage. Said he: "Burton had bought up enough high-priced Harold Bell Wright-type of fiction to last five years."

In 1928 Wiese was sure that "women were ready for more significant fiction than Gene Stratton Porter and articles more serious than the featherweight stuff they were getting." He even suggested to the board that McCall's sell Burton's stockpile of popular fiction to their bigger rivals, Ladies Home Journal and Woman's Home Companion. He wanted to start from scratch with new, "realistic" writers. For such heresies he was fired at least six times during the first year (he quit nearly as often), was always rehired after a few days or weeks because, he says, "there was no one else around the place with ideas."

Three Magazines In One. Wiese made his first big splash in 1932, when he broke away from the hodge-podge makeup common to all ladies' magazines, came out with what is still called Three Magazines in One. Each section—News and Fiction, Homemaking, Style and Beauty—had its own cover, and ads appropriate to it inside. Then he went after the taboos that governed the sweetness & light fiction of women's magazines. He bought a story about adultery (Stone Blunts Scissors, by Sara Yarrow), in which the adulteress got the man. McCall's got 5,000 letters on it, most of them praise.

Now he has only one taboo left—homosexuality—and he's playing with the idea of dropping that. He claims that "name" writers don't mean a thing to him ("I don't give a damn who writes a story"), disclaims any special knowledge of female psychology except what he absorbs through his pores. "But why should they prefer boy-meets-girl-on-bus stories when they know damn well they didn't meet their own husbands that way?"

For all his wonder-boy reputation and self-assurance, McCall's editor is a quiet, hard worker. He has a wife and four children, almost never consults his wife on the "woman's angle." He is certain that women need men to edit their magazines. Says he: "A woman has the courage to think for herself but not for other women. It takes a man to do that."