In October 1990, the Sun ran a story about a 101-year old woman who supposedly had to quit her job as a newspaper carrier because she got pregnant after being seduced by a reclusive millionaire on her route. The story, of course, was totally false. However, the Sun also ran a picture with the article of a real woman, 96-year-old Nellie Mitchell of Arkansas.
Mitchell sued, charging invasion of privacy (she had never given them permission to use her photo) and emotional distress, because she now had to endure people asking her when the baby was due. During the trial, the editor of the Sun explained that they had needed a picture to go along with the fake story, and had found in their archive a photo of Mitchell taken in 1986. They had used it, assuming she must have been dead by then. And dead people can't sue for damages.
Mitchell won and was awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages and $850,000 in punitive damages.
Urban Dictionary defines 'newsbabe' as "a sexually-attractive female news anchor or reporter on TV." It sounds like a modern term, but it actually was in use as far back as 1949, and originated in the context of radio news.
Back then, Christina Ohlsen earned the title of newsbabe while she was working at the U.S. Army's radio station in West Berlin (RIAS, or Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor). On-air, she played a character called 'Das Botenkind' which was a Berlin slang term that got translated as the Newsbabe. She would essentially make fun of the headlines in the Soviet newspapers, while in the persona of this newsbabe.
According to her obituary in the Washington Post (she died in 2012), she later married Air Force Col. William Heimlich, who was her boss at the station, moved with him to Falls Church, Virginia, and taught dance classes there for the rest of her life.
In an interview, her husband offered some recollections of her times as the newsbabe:
Q: How did you meet your wife, who was then Christina Olsen?
A: Christina Olson. She was a guest of my British opposite, Colonel E A Hollard, at a tea to which I was invited. I saw her, I thought she was the loveliest thing I'd ever seen in my life and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her - on the spot. I - came to know her then when she was in RIAS, came to know her much better, and when she came to the United States as a guest of the State Department in 1950 - yes, 1950, we were married here.
Q: If you describe exactly what she was doing for RIAS?
A: In RIAS she was an actress of course and a charming one, a very popular one, and - she did particularly a role called 'Das Botenkind' or 'The Little Messenger - The Newsboy, that's about the only way I can translate that. And she would sing song a pompous news story that appeared in, let us say, the T&aumb;gliche Rundschau, the Soviet Newspaper, and then poke fun at it. Typical example: 'The meat ration this month will not be filled. Instead you will receive four hundred fifty five grams of sugar.' or 'The potato ration this week will not be filled. Instead you will get thirty- three hundred and fifty grammes of soya beans.', or 'The travel cards between Berlin and Dresden will no longer be honoured until further notice. There will be no German personnel allowed to leave the city of Magdeburg until further notice' These pompous things would appear constantly in the Soviet newspaper, and she would talk about it on the air and say, 'I don't understand it. But the big ones, they've got to understand it. All of these things which violated agreements between the Western and the Eastern allies.
The case of Blanche English, addicted to marginalia.
Wilmington News Journal - July 22, 1970
Update: I found a follow-up about Blanche English written in 2006 by Garth Wade, the Star-Gazette reporter who first discovered her unusual talent:
Blanche English became a nurse later in life but she was running a diner in Blossburg when I visited one morning to ask if she ate newspaper. My friend Dick Spencer told me she did, but I wanted proof. With some fear for my health, I blurted, "Pardon me, Mrs. English, but do you eat newspaper?"
Blanche laughed. I laughed. I had to because Blanche had one of those contagious laughs. Then we laughed some more.
This happy, marvelous lady admitted to eating newspaper. The craving started when she was pregnant with Douglas, the first of her five kids, she said. She would strip the edge of the newspaper where there was no ink, roll it up, chew a spell and swallow. The only newspaper she liked was the Star-Gazette.
So, I sat Blanche in one of her booths with a plate full of Star-Gazette and took her photo. The story generated Blanche's 15 minutes of fame. Talk shows called and newspapers sent copies imploring her to try their newsprint. Blanche remained faithful to the Star-Gazette. And her husband, Leonard, loved to tell about his wife's special talent.
Blanche became an LPN later and worked at the Broad Acres Nursing Home in Wellsboro. "She loved those folks and they loved her," said Linda English Cheyney, Blanche's daughter. Linda said her mother's habit continued well after Douglas' birth. "I remember her sitting at the breakfast table with a cup of coffee and the edges of the Star-Gazette were gone."
Blanche was 68 when she died 13 years ago. Leonard joined her last year.
When I first saw this headline I thought it was talking about weird school kids, and I was definitely intrigued. What it was actually about was interesting, but not as interesting as an article about freaky kids luring octopuses into their gardens would have been. But I still like the headline.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.