Thursday, 11 June 2015

`Headless body in topless bar': Author of iconic headline dies


Headline writers are a damned lot. The time is tight, wordage limited, and against the ticking of the clock and constraints of space, they have to confect a headline that captures, accurately , the substance of the story , however long and complex the narrative might be.They don't always succeed, and complaints are many . Bill Gates grumbled that the “bad news is a headline, and gradual improvement is not,“ and President Johnson once twitted editors, saying that if he walked alongside the Potomac River in the morning, the headline that afternoon would read: “President Can't Swim.“
Vincent Musetto, the New York Post headline writer who died of cancer in New York City on Tuesday at age 74, was justly famous for a headline of matchless brevity and pith. It came to define obituaries and tributes that flowed for him. HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR, described by the New York Times as the “most anatomically evocative headline in the history of American journalism,“ was exactly about what it said -a headless body in a topless bar.
The details of the story have been rendered inconsequential because of the legendary status the headline acquired, comparable to that of the apocryphal “Nut Screws and Bolts“ (about the mental asylum inmate who escapes after a sexual assault).Roughly , it involved a man who got into a drunken brawl at a bar in Queens that eventually led to the decapitation of the owner's head. Musetto's headline simply cut to the chase.
In part, the brevity of Vincent Musetto's headline was forced by the newspaper format and style.
The New York Post was (and remains) a tabloid, and the headline per se had to be crisp, compact, and crackling. In contrast, the rather tedious headline for the same April 13, 1983 story in the New York Times read “Owner of a Bar Shot to Death; Suspect Is Held.“ It coyly avoided mentioning toplessness and the decapitation was mentioned only in the third para.
In years to come, “Headless Body in Top Less Bar“ acquired cult status, celebrated in T-Shirts and becoming the title of Hollywood movie.

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