Born in Philadelphia, McCarthy took to the arts as a child. In the early 1940s he met Albert Barnes who became a supportive friend and patron. McCarthy studied at the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts); the Barnes Foundation; the Grand Chaumiere, Paris; and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Known for painted tiles, ceramic-topped tables, and glazed vessels, McCarthy covered the surfaces of his objects with nude figures. In this, he was inspired by the Barnes Foundation’s collection. McCarthy taught at the Barnes Foundation, the Friends Neighborhood Guild, and at Fleisher Art Memorial for over five decades. His work is in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the National Gallery, Washington, DC; the Barnes Foundation, and others.