One of my favorite parts of writing is coming up with a good title that will pull readers into a story.
Publishers pay authors good money to write those headlines. The National Enquirer in Lantana, FL. turned publisher Generoso Pope into a billionaire because he figured out the 'mix' that the public wanted to see in a weekly publication about celebrities, news makers and just ordinary people who did something unusual.
During the past 40-plus years, I have worked in various parts of the country and Caribbean for the widest assortment of publishers you can imagine -- and to a person, they all loved a good headline writer.
One of my first editors was Jack Cort. He and I worked together in the editorial department of the West Lake News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio before he moved over to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where he spent the rest of the journalistic career.
'Remember this, Pal,' he would say to me as we took our morning break in the coffee room. 'If a dog bites a man, that ain't news. But if a man bites a dog...' he winked. 'You got a story.'
I still smile when I remember something that happened on the old Tucumcari Daily News, Tucumcari, N.M., where I worked as sports editor and feature writer. An investor from back East had just moved into Tucumcari and was hosting the grand opening of his women's clothing store.
He was young, he had plenty of money and he kicked off the event by providing free champagne and jumbo shrimp for the cowboys, ranchers and the wives and daughters who lived on spreads from Tucumcari to Raton Pass and Portales.
The store owner also ran a full-page ad in my newspaper to launch his new business. One of the items on sale was featured prominently in the ad -- ladies panties. The owner, whose name was Henry, met with Deke, our advertising manager, to inspect the final advertising proof sheet before our presses rolled.
'How's that look, Deke?,' he said proudly. 'LADIES PANTIES, IMPORTED FROM PARIS AD CHINA. ASSOCIATED SIZES.'
Deke, who grew up on a ranch near Jal, N.M., rubbed his chin. 'Looks okay to me, Mr. Henry,' he said. 'Only it might be a bit long. Why don't we abbreviate 'associated'?' Henry thought that was fine and it was done. Of course, when the newspaper was printed the following morning, Henry called his attorney and threatened to sue my newspaper for leaving the period off 'ASS SIZES.' P.S. He decided not to file a lawsuit, and his store became one of the most popular clothing outlets in Quay County.
No, headlines can sell newspapers and magazines, no question about that. The New York Post became famous overnight when it covered a murder story and ran the following headline, HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR. And what historian could ever forget the wonderful miscue by the Chicago Daily Tribune in the 1948 Presidential election, DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.
Over the years I have written a few eye-catching article titles and headlines of my own. Years ago while writing for the old Argosy, a classic pulp magazine, a photographer friend named Paul DeGruccio and I covered an all-girls rodeo in Wickenburg, AZ.
We found two identical twins who rode brahma bulls. They were at the rodeo with their mother and they were beauties. While Paul shot the pictures, I interviewed the girls. Our combined efforts produced a story titled, THAT AIN'T NO LADY, which later won us a prize from the Levi Strauss Co. for one of the best rodeo stories of the year.
'That Ain't No Lady' is a good description of what is happening in today's world of professional poker players.
In the 1960s and '70s when I first started playing poker, there were very few female poker players. There were even fewer good ones.
Occasionally you would run into a decent female player in Gardena, Lake Elsinore or Santa Rosa, CA. where I played. But for the most part, women stayed away from the poker tables and avoided the cigar smoke, the drinking, the purple language and the uncouth attitude of the male players. Today poker rooms all over the world are packed with women players like Annie Duke and Venessa Selbst, and many of them can hold their own in any kind of competition.
I remember one of the first poker tournaments I ever played in. It was 1969, and the game was five-card low ball with a joker. I placed second when an attractive boutique owner from Beverly Hills, CA. demolished my seven-low with a pat six-low.
One of the other players, an old timer with a toothless grin, shook his head and roared when she laid down her winning hand.
'Son, that ain't no lady,' he said, trying to catch his breath as his body rocked with laughter. 'That's a real poker player.'