The writer of the greatest headline in the history of tabloidkind has retired, his paper reported Thursday:
The genius who dreamed up the iconic New York Post headline “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” Vincent A. Musetto, was given an affectionate send-off by his colleagues last night after 40 years at the paper. Retiring film critic Musetto, who once ran the newsroom, was toasted by staff, who regaled him with a reading from Steve Cuozzo‘s 1996 book, “It’s Alive,” about the genesis of the 1983 headline. But Musetto revealed that his favorite of his own headlines was “Granny Executed in Her Pink Pajamas.” And when the Times reprinted it as “slain,” not “executed,” he got the paper to run a correction.
Minyanville.com rounds up some quotes from Mussetto:
I wrote HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR, the most infamous headline in journalism. They have T-shirts with it on, and buttons. It’s all right. It’s not one of my favorite headlines. Nobody expected it to become a classic, the Night of the Living Dead of headlines. One afternoon I got a report that there had been a murder in a bar, and that one of the victims had had his or her head cut off. Someone said it might be a topless bar, but we weren’t sure, and then the idea of the headline came around, so we were really questioning to make sure it was a topless bar. We sent the reporter, this girl, and she so determined that it was a topless bar. I just wrote it, and everyone said “ha ha,” but I didn’t think it would live in infamy.
Musetto also explained the difference between a headline and a New York Post headline:
Zap, zip, zonk, nix, those are good verbs. Short. Short and powerful. They’ve got to convey a sense of urgency. Nouns? Tots, kids, fire, you know — SIX-ALARM FIRE. Blaze is good, but fire’s shorter. Siege. Siege is good. Madman, maniac, fear. My favorite word is “coed.” When you see coed, people want to buy the paper. I don’t know why — just some young, innocent girl getting into a lot of trouble. It’s the dirty old man in people. It’s a very sexy word…. Without the hyphen. Some people spell it with a hyphen, we spell it without the hyphen.
Not surprisingly, Mussetto’s headline made the list of New York magazine’s Greatest Tabloid Headlines back in 2003:
FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD
(Daily News, 1975)
SOMOZA SLAIN BY BAZOOKA
HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR
(New York Post, 1982)
‘I AM DEATH WISH VIGILANTE’
(Bernie Goetz turns himself in; Post, 1985)
(Koch re-elected; News, 1985)
MARLA: ‘BEST SEX I EVER HAD’
AMY’S NUDE ROMPS IN JAIL
KISS YOUR ASTEROID GOODBYE!
(Meteor misses earth; Post, 1998)
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
(Senate fails to convict Clinton; News, 1999)
FROM A BIG HOUSE TO THE BIG HOUSE
(Lizzie Grubman sentenced; News, 2002)
AXIS OF WEASEL
(Veteran readers of the Blogosphere know that PJTV’s own Scott Ott originally wrote that last headline.)
Mussetto’s headline also inspired the title of a compendium of classic front pages the Post released a few years ago. It’s a book that thinks it’s a hysterically funny compendium of New York Post headlines (and it is), but for bloggers, it’s actually a textbook on how to construct killer headlines. As one of the Post’s editors notes in the book, no matter how brilliant your article is, nobody’s going to read it if the headline doesn’t grab them first, and in one of the world’s most competitive newspaper markets, the ability to consistently write must-read headlines is an art.