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John Mack Carter, Good Housekeeping's editor for 19 years has relinquished that job to become president of a new unit, Hearst Magazine Enterprises.

That unit will develop magazines internally as well as through joint ventures and-for the first time in the company's 90-year history-with outside entrepreneurs.

"What I've really been issued is a giant hunting license to look for new opportunities and to make them happen," Mr. Carter said.

But, as with many actions inside the Hearst empire, last week's move also set tongues wagging.

Since no successor was designated for Mr. Carter, immediate speculation focused on a potential replacement. Inside, the money was on Ellen Levine, the chief editor of Hearst's Redbook. The 5 million circulation Good Housekeeping has been flat in advertising and circulation this year, but is Hearst's largest magazine in both categories. Ms. Levine did not return calls.

A decision is expected this week before the annual American Magazine Conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Failure to name an immediate Good Housekeeping replacement invited speculation that company tensions about how best to roll out new magazines contributed to the latest move (AA, Aug. 22).

Mr. Carter has favored testing 200,000 to 300,000 copies of a single issue on newsstands; if it sells, regular publication ensues. That method produced hits like Country Living and Victoria. Hearst Magazines President D. Claeys Bahrenburg has favored joint ventures like those that launched Smart Money and more recently Marie Claire.

The official announcement on the surface appeared to be a victory for Mr. Carter. But buried deep in the three-page news release was the word that Mr. Carter still reports to Mr. Bahrenburg.

Said one former Hearst insider, "The Hearst family is very much tied to John Mack Carter.

Any conflicts that Claeys and John may have had, the family was always behind John."

Mr. Carter dismissed talk of a rift between himself and Mr. Bahrenburg. "We like each other," Mr. Carter said. "Where we haven't agreed-and that's been rare-I've accepted his decisions. He's my boss."

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