Vincent Musetto, Greatest Headline Writer Of All
Vincent A. Musetto, who wrote the greatest headline in New York newspaper history, died Tuesday at 74 from cancer.
He is survived by his wife, Claire, and a daughter, Carly — and will be mourned as well by New York Post employees past and present who were inspired by his professionalism and quirky talent during his Post career from 1970-2011.
His spirit will be missed, too, by millions of Post readers who never knew him.
Post editor- in-chief Col Allan said, “V.A. Musetto was one of the legends of our business, and he became famous for a truly classic headline.
“But for those who worked with him and mourn him today, V.A. 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.”
“Headless Body in Topless Bar” ran on The Post’s front page on April 15, 1983. As witty as it was horrific, it expressed with unflinching precision the city’s accelerating tailspin into an abyss of atrocious crime and chaos.
“Headless Body” soon became the stuff of pop-culture legend. “Saturday Night Live” worked it into routines and David Letterman invited Musetto onto his late-night show to talk about it. It even became the title of a 1990s crime movie.
But Musetto, a managing editor, had to fight to get “Headless Body” into the paper. He pleaded with then-executive editor Roger Wood, who was equally appalled by the crime.
A psycho had invaded a Queens after-hours joint, shot the owner to death and then — on learning a female customer was a mortician — ordered her to cut off the victim’s head, which cops later found in the madman’s car.
But Wood thought the headline too raunchy even for The Post’s sensationalist, Fleet Street-style of the time. A quieter headline ran with the first version of the story on an inside page of the afternoon edition.
But Musetto stuck to his guns, and “Headless Body in Topless Bar” ran on Page 1 the next day.
It prompted witless snarking in egghead circles. The Post’s legendary metropolitan editor, Steve Dunleavy, countered, “What should we have said? ‘Decapitated cerebellum in tavern of ill repute’?” (The New York Times came close with, “Owner of a Bar Shot to Death; Suspect is Held.”)
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From 1979 into the ’80s, The Post published eight daily editions, and Musetto put out four of them. His zany style belied crack news judgment and craftsmanship. Dressed only in black, balding but with a hippie-length beard, he tooted horns and kicked over trash cans in heat-of-battle deadline moments.
Vincent Musetto was born in May 1941 in Boonton, NJ. He toiled at the Staten Island Advance before he joined The Post as a copy editor, and after his newsroom years served as entertainment editor and a film critic.
The genius behind ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’ headline dies at 74
By Steve Cuozzo
New York Post
June 9, 2015 | 3:52pm