Headless Body in Topless Bar: A memory

Allow me a point of personal privilege here.

Today marks the 38th anniversary of one of the most famous headlines in The New York Post.

I was working on the desk and witnessed the creative process that brought the story to life. Of course I am talking about “Headless Body in Topless Bar.”

Back in the day, The Post had seven different editions to the paper. Printing from 9 PM the night before to 3:45 PM the next day. By 6 AM the dayside staff would arrive down at 210 South Street in lower Manhattan.

Vinny Musetto was running the operation with Dick Belsky overseeing the rewrite and reporters early on. Both men knew that their job was to come up with a new “wood,” which is what the Page 1 headline was called. It was called the wood because the point size used on the cover was too large to be casted in metal during the hot-type days.

So this morning Musetto sees a small story in the back of the newshole about a bar owner’s decapitated body found at his business. Belsky has me “beep” one of his reporters. The reporter finds a phone and calls in to the desk.

It may have been Kieran Crowley or Eli Tieber — I can’t recall. Belsky tells him to proceed to the bar and see what’s going on. Belsky also calls over to the Police Shack — located at New York Police Department’s headquarters — where reporters worked on NYPD-related stories to see if the cops had any leads on the murder.

The reporter in the field calls in about 30 minutes later to say it was all quiet at the bar. However being a Post reporter he does add the much needed information that makes me memorialize the story today.

“Oh, by the way, the bar is a topless joint,” he tells Belsky.

And so it starts.

“Hold on,” Belsky tells the reporter. “Hey Vinny, the bar where the body was found is a topless joint.”

And so Musetto and his team of subeditors comprising of Lou Colasuonno, Drew McKenzie and John Itner begin tossing out headline ideas.

Within minutes Musetto is marching about the newsroom with arms in the air after typesetting the infamous line on his Harris computer. Needless to say the story wrote itself with that headline.

As someone who wrote headlines for more than 30 years at the paper, I can tell you there is nothing so rewarding as getting the right headline.

Thanks for allowing me to recollect on this today.