I’ve just learned that Vinnie Musetto, a former colleague of mine at the New York Post and a man of American journalism legend, has died. From the Post:
Musetto etched his place in New York journalism history when he wrote “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” the screaming front page headline of the April 15, 1983 edition of The Post.
Musetto’s headline perfectly summed up the gruesome murder of Queens bar owner Herbert Cummings.
Charles Dingle fatally shot the topless bar owner and then took four women hostage, raped one and had another cut off Cummings’ head.
In a 1987 interview with People magazine, Musetto said the murder and decapitation was known early in the reporting process.
Musetto immediately thought of the “topless” headline but needed confirmation that Cummings’ watering hole was, in fact, a jiggle joint.
Reporter Maralyn Matlick jumped on a garbage can, looked inside the bar and spotted a sign, “Topless Dancing Tonight.”
“Someone said it might be a topless bar, but we weren’t sure, and then the idea of the headline came around, so we were really questioning to make sure it was a topless bar,” Musetto recalled.
“We sent the reporter, this girl, and she so determined that it was a topless bar. I just wrote it, and everyone said `ha ha,’ but I didn’t think it would live in infamy.”
“Jiggle joint.” Lord, did I ever love working at the Post.
Mr. Musetto’s headline, exquisitely emblematic of The Post under Rupert Murdoch, quickly insinuated itself into popular culture. It appeared on T-shirts; as the title of a 1995 movie starring Raymond J. Barry and loosely based on the crime; and as the name of a 2007 book, “Headless Body in Topless Bar: The Best Headlines From America’s Favorite Newspaper.”
But however lauded it became, it was not Mr. Musetto’s favorite among the many headlines he wrote for the paper.
That honor, he often said, went to one composed the next year: “GRANNY EXECUTED IN HER PINK PAJAMAS.”
Vincent Albert Musetto Jr., known as Vinnie, was born in May 1941 and grew up in Boonton, N.J. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
“The average guy probably thinks that whoever writes headlines for The Post probably never got past third grade,” Mr. Musetto, who was partial to ballet and the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, told The Miami Herald in 1986. “I guess maybe they’d be shocked.”
That’s really true. Vinnie was a hardcore cinéaste. When I reviewed movies for the Post, I could count on Vinnie to review anything and everything that came out at Film Forum. If a neo-Gothic Slovakian lesbian sci-fi black comedy came to town, Vinnie would see it with relish.
I remember Vinnie as a quiet, gentle, gray-ponytailed hippie, and remarked to a Post old-timer one day how unusual I found it that a man who came up with such vivid tabloid headlines would be so laid back he’d make Jerry Garcia look amped. “What a sweet spirit,” I observed.
“Nah, that’s not it,” he said. “You shoulda seen Vinnie before he started the medication. He was a maniac.”
There’s not a place for the Vinnie Musettos in American newsrooms today. So passes the glory of American newsrooms. What a guy, Vinnie. Memory eternal.