From clever to outrageous

Published 6:22 pm Friday, June 25, 2010

Today’s topic is about classic newspaper headlines—mostly those that I have known and loved.

In my association with The Orlando Sentinel back in the ’60s and ’70s, there were many headline standouts that were so special that they go down in my books as “classics.”

There were two standouts in which I have never forgotten, and there’s a third for which none other will ever equal.

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We all know the impact the Walt Disney company placed on sleepy Central Florida in the mid ’60s, which eventually spawned Walt Disney World and a plethora of adjacent tourist destination attractions. Back then, we were familiar with DisneyLand in California, not only because it was a first-rate family attraction, but Walt Disney himself hosted a popular Sunday evening hour-long TV program, which promoted his movies, nature studies and mostly his highly popular and highly successful DisneyLand family-oriented amusement park in Southern California.

Rumors were circulating in Central Florida in the mid ’60s about huge tracts of land purchased by an unknown entity for an unknown mega project. Naturally, speculation abounded.

The tract in question consisted of more than 25,000 acres centered around the intersection of Interstate 4 and the Sunshine State Parkway, a few miles west of Orlando.

Speculation too centered around what it was and who it was buying huge tracts of land, yet none of the rumors produced positive results. Those who knew had sealed lips.

Jean Yothers, an entertainment columnist for the Orlando newspaper, was in Los Angeles for one of those entertainment promotion tours, when at a pricey star-studded reception she ran into Walt Disney.

She asked him point blank, “Mr. Disney is that your organization buying all that land in Central Florida?”

To which Walt answered, “Yes,” and then proceeded to tell her all about it.

The secret was out of the bag.

Like any good reporter with a hot news scoop, Yothers raced to a phone, called the newspaper, and dictated a news story.

The following morning’s headline on the lead front-page story, proclaimed:

“It’s Disney’s Land”

Yes indeed it was.

In a newspaper, the location in the building where reporters hang out and where articles are edited and headlines written on news stories, it’s appropriately labeled “the newsroom.” The location within the newsroom where editors edit and where headlines written is called “the news desk.” In Orlando, it was always a contest among the headline writers on the news desk as to which news editor could write the most attention-getting headline on the front page news stories.

On this desk, the king of clever headline writers was Eddie Densen. It was Eddie who wrote the famous “It’s Disney’s Land.”

Politics is always a hot topic, and Eddie came up with another headline political classic. Shirley Temple Black was running for senator in California. And if we all remember the child star Shirley Temple, as a little girl in a movie, she became famous for a song that she sang, “The Good Ship Lollipop.”

Well, Shirley Temple (Black) was defeated in her bid for the U.S. Senate, and Eddie’s front page headline the next morning was: “Lollipop Gets Licked.”

My all-time favorite headline in The Orlando Sentinel was on top of a news story I had written. The headline was not an Eddie Densen classic.

The story involved a sticky drawbridge over the Indian River’s Intracoastal Waterway between the town of Cocoa and Merritt Island, Fla. The time period was the boom-town atmosphere surrounding the space program on Cape Canaveral and all its environs as America vied to put a man on the moon sometime by 1969. The road from the mainland over the waterway’s drawbridge across Merritt Island to the NASA space center was one of the busiest in the county. The traffic count remained high all day, but particularly at rush hour.

Then it happened.

At the height of rush hour one morning, as thousands of workers and motorists headed to the space center, the drawbridge over the Intracoastal Waterway went up, and stayed up, stuck in its upright position. It caused a monstrous traffic jam. Vehicles backed up for miles, unable to get off Merritt Island one way, or onto the island the other way toward the space center.

I wrote the news story about the bridge getting stuck in the open position, and the subsequent traffic jam. The headline on this front-page news story in the next morning’s newspaper proclaimed:

“Bride stuck open … traffic backs up for miles”

Now if you read that headline too quick, and missed the error, go back and carefully check the spelling of the first word in the headline.

In my personal archives, I have a clipping of this news story with the uncorrected headline. Through the years, I have come across it again and again while fumbling through my stuff, then stop, reread it again, and roll uncontrollably on the floor, overcome for the umpteenth time with gut-wrenching laughter. No matter how many times I have re-read this headline on this news story through the years, it still cracks me up.