Herbert R. Mayes, 87, a high-school dropout from a Harlem tenement who rose to become one of the country's top magazine editors at Good Housekeeping and McCall's, died of pneumonia Oct. 30 at his home in Manhattan.

Mr. Mayes headed Good Housekeeping, a Hearst publication, for 20 years before jumping in 1958 to one of its main rivals, McCall's. He retired as president and chief executive of the McCall Corp. in 1965.

Under his leadership, McCall's overtook Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal in circulation and advertising revenue with a change in format, bolder color and more fiction.

Mr. Mayes' formal education ended when his father's death forced him to take a job at age 15, after only one semester of high school study. He worked as a messenger and a stenographer before answering an ad for a trade-book publisher. He won the job at age 20 and soon found himself editor, reporter and sole staff member of a trade publication for small-town retailers.

He joined the Hearst Corp. in 1927 and became managing editor of Good Housekeeping in 1937 and editor the next year. Four years after his move to McCall's he was elected chief of the McCall Corp., in charge of a $100 million-a-year organization whose various divisions at the time printed 53 national magazines and produced pattern books.

Survivors include his wife, Grace, and two daughters, all of New York City, and a grandchild.