Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How the greatest headline in U.S. history almost never was

Vincent Musetto, a retired editor at The New York Post who wrote the most anatomically evocative headline in the history of American journalism — HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR — died on Tuesday in the Bronx. He was 74. ...

The crime behind the headline was lurid even by tabloid standards. On April 13, 1983, Charles Dingle, drinking in a tavern in the Jamaica section of Queens, argued with the owner, Herbert Cummings, and shot him to death. He then took several women hostage, raping one and forcing another, in an apparent bid to confound the police, to cut off Mr. Cummings’s head. ...

But what endured in public memory far longer than the crime was the headline, with its verbless audacity, arresting parallel adjectives and forceful trochaic slams. (The corresponding headline in The New York Times that day proclaimed, genteelly, “Owner of a Bar Shot to Death; Suspect Is Held.” Headlessness was not mentioned until the third paragraph; toplessness not at all.) ...

As several former colleagues have recalled over the years, Mr. Musetto’s headline almost did not come to be. That April evening, as deadline loomed in the newsroom, it occurred to someone that the bar in question might not actually be topless.

“It’s gotta be a topless bar!” Mr. Musetto cried, as his former colleague Charlie Carillo wrote for The Huffington Post in 2012. “This is the greatest headline of my career!” (As quoted by Mr. Carillo, there was an intervening, ungenteel participle between “greatest” and “headline.”)

The Post dispatched a reporter, who phoned from Queens to say, to the relief of all and to the everlasting glory of American tabloid journalism, that topless it was.
--Margalit Fox, NYT, on a fact almost too good to check