June 9, 2015

The New York Times | Capital New York

Vincent A. Musetto, the man who wrote the iconic New York Post headline “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” has died, multiple sources reported Tuesday.

Musetto, who came up with such gems as “Granny Executed in Her Pink Pajamas,” “Khadafy Goes Daffy” and “500-Pound Sex Maniac Goes Free,” had a 40-year career at The New York Post before he retired in 2011. In 2013, The New York Post discontinued Musetto’s freelance job writing film reviews for the newspaper.

New York Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan released praised Musetto for his critical eye and love for his newspaper in a statement released Tuesday:

VA Musetto was one of the legends of our business, and he became famous for a truly classic headline: Headless Body in Topless Bar. But for those who worked with him and mourn him today, VA offered so much more. Humor. A sharp critical eye. A personal warmth with his colleagues, and deep love for the Post and its readers. All will miss him.

Writing for The New York Times, Margalit Fox called Musetto’s grisly opus “the most anatomically evocative headline in the history of American journalism”:

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.)

The lurid detail in the second line of the headline was the result of careful reporting, longtime journalist Dick Belsky wrote for NBC News in 2012:

I called the cops, but they didn’t know if the place was topless or not. I had someone try the bar, but there was no answer. We reached out for people who lived in the neighborhood, phone listings. Nothing. It was closing in on our deadline now. So I dispatched a young woman reporter named Maralyn Matlick to go to the bar and see first-hand if she could determine whether or not it was topless.

A few minutes before deadline, the reporter called in to say the bar was locked up tight. There were no signs, no advertisements about it being a topless place. I asked her if she could see inside. She said she’d try. She somehow was able to pull herself up and peek into a window of the bar. That’s when she saw it. A sign inside that said: “Topless Dancing.” Matlick was ecstatic. She called me to tell me the news, and just like that, New York City tabloid history was made.

Musetto’s death was caused by pancreatic cancer, Capital New York reports.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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