The man convicted for the crime that inspired the most famous headline in the history of tabloid journalism recently sought parole nearly 29 years after it happened, which put that headline right back in the headlines:
HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR
I was in the New York Post newsroom the day that immortal headline was born, and I'll get to that in a moment, but first allow me to set the scene.
What a scene it was.
In those days the New York Post was the Moneyball equivalent of a newspaper staff, a ragtag collection of remarkably talented, wildly colorful characters.
At the same time it was also like a mental health clinic in which nearly everybody was undermedicated.
Not a bad bunch to have when you're trying to grab the city by the lapels and shout in its face.
Day after day, the headlines were well worth the price of admission. I'll never forget one written by the brilliant Dick McWilliams, when Wall Street crook Ivan Boesky was sentenced to prison:
CELL! CELL! CELL!
When pop artist Andy Warhol died suddenly in 1987, Al Ellenberg wrote a headline that was yanked at the last moment:
POP GOES THE WARHOL!
I'll always be sorry that one never ran. Hell, Warhol himself would probably have liked it!
When Godfather Joseph ("Joe Bananas") Bonanno was taken into custody as an old man, the headline said it all:
YES, WE HAVE JOE BANANAS
And a personal favorite of mine became not only a front-page headline but a popular t-shirt as well. The story was written by tabloid cowboy Bill Hoffmann and Charles Lachman, author of A Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland.
But long before Lachman's name appeared under that title, it appeared under this one:
BOY GULPS GAS, EXPLODES
Makes you want to read all about it, doesn't it?
Now back to that extraordinary day in April, 1983: it started with a police bulletin about a grisly crime in a bar. Among the many horrors, somebody had been decapitated.
Vinnie Musetto was in charge of the Post's front page, an excitable man with a bushy beard known to leap on his desk and blow a wooden train whistle when stories got him worked up.
When Vinnie found out the bar was also a topless joint... kingdom come!
He tapped out the words on his computer screen, glowing big and green:
HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR
Funny how just a few simple words can have the greatest impact. William Shakespeare had an enormous vocabulary but his most memorable line is TO BE, OR NOT TO BE.
Vinnie Musetto had knocked the ball out of the park, and he didn't even need a verb to do it.
Somehow, we all knew this was The One. The whole staff gathered behind Vinnie, like one of those oil paintings you see of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with the founding fathers huddled together to absorb the impact of the moment.
It was a perfect headline, THE perfect headline. Maybe too perfect.
Suddenly city editor Dick Belsky called across the newsroom: "Hang on, Vinnie, we're not a hundred per cent sure it's a topless bar!"
Vinnie jumped on top of his desk and waved his arms.
"It's gotta be a topless bar!" he cried. "This is the greatest f------ headline of my career!"
Vinnie got his wish. The topless bar angle checked out, and within minutes the presses were rolling.
The headline became a t-shirt, a part of the "Saturday Night Live" opening credits and a legend for all time.
And had the parole board granted freedom to the man whose crime inspired this headline, it's easy to imagine the headline that would have graced the Post's editorial page today:
HAVE THEY LOST THEIR HEADS?
Charlie Carillo's first two published novels, Shepherd Avenue and My Ride With Gus are available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents. His website is www.charliecarillo.com. He's a producer for the TV show Inside Edition.
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