How to be Thinner, Happier, Healthier, Sexier
As editor of Redbook, Ellen Kunes '81 has lots of advice for the contemporary woman

Ellen Kunes crossing busy NYC street

The morning promises calm, which is good, because Ellen Kunes '81 is tired. Redbook's Mothers and Shakers event yesterday at Lincoln Center was exhilarating but draining, as she swirled from task to task, checking tables, her speech, and welcoming the 12 women saluted for their activism. She would have loved to chat with actress Marlee Matlin, who was honored for her work with the American Red Cross, or the New York mom who fought for inclusion of disabled children in public schools, but her focus was Laura Bush. Applauded for her literacy programs, the first lady was "sooo nice," Kunes says later. Yet even as she bantered with Mrs. Bush about twins--the Bush daughters and Kunes' 5-year-old sons--Kunes felt the pressure of Secret Service agents circling, standing, staring.

Little wonder that Kunes crashed at 9 p.m., only to wake hours later, still jazzed from her day. She'll often conk out early, then rise to do some midnight editing, but she's usually back in bed in an hour or two. But on this night of deep fatigue, one son needed cuddling, and then, out of the darkness, a cat sprang through the dining room window of her apartment on the Upper West Side, which, "just so you know," Kunes says, "is on the 16th floor." The night doorman returned the cat to its home on the 15th floor, but how could she sleep after that?

Forget the contact lenses and the make-up. It's a morning for glasses and French roast. Yet no day is predictable when you are the editor of one of the nation's top women's magazines, and this is no exception. The calm she seeks shatters before the Starbucks cup is empty, as Kunes' managing editor bustles into her corner office, fretting about the magazine's shipping cycle. "It's not good for us to have our October issue on the stands when everyone else has November's," says Jennifer Barnett.

Kunes is thoughtful. Changing the cycle is a major move, but it can be done--with sweat. "Let's plan a meeting next week," she says from her perch on the office couch. If this is today's major challenge, she'll be OK. But when do challenges come one at a time? Kunes cradles her face in her hands and sighs. "It is," she says, "shaping up to be a nightmare day."

Ellen Kunes touching up photos
Ellen Kunes with managing editor Jennifer Barnett
Editor-in-chief Ellen Kunes puts finishing touches on the next issue of Redbook with her managing editor, Jennifer Barnett.

Although she usually operates on more sleep and without the strain of hosting a president's wife, Ellen Kunes rather enjoys tackling nightmare days, dealing with one crisis at a time, focusing on the most pressing problem. That strategy has served her well. For more than two decades, Kunes has written, edited and freelanced for many leading magazines, landing some of the most coveted positions in an industry known for its fickle nature and ferocious competitiveness. She's served as articles editor at Mademoiselle, senior editor at Self, lifestyles editor at McCall's, executive editor at Redbook and Cosmopolitan, and in perhaps her most notorious role, launch editor at O, Oprah Winfrey's magazine. It's been quite a ride, or as her UNH journalism professor Ron Winslow '71 says, "an incredible career," demanding flexibility, focus and a tenacious grasp on an ever-changing marketplace. And, her peers will add, she has done it without selling her soul.

On this steamy Friday in mid-September, when the bulk of the Redbook staff, mostly 20-somethings, is garbed in hip-hugger jeans, tight tops and stiletto heels, Kunes is dressed simply in black pants and a black wrap-around top with a white collar and cuffs. At 43, Kunes is fair, her shoulder-length hair a pale blonde and her skin absent a hint of summer tan. The reserve Ron Winslow remembers from her college days remains, a cool calm. "She's very low-key," says Janet Siroto, Redbook's executive editor.

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