Weird News

I LOVE titles like Man Suffocated by Potatoes, a new paperback put out by Signet. The author is William A. Marsano, a journalist and former writer for TV Guide. He has been clipping offbeat news stories for some years and here presents the highlights of his collection, appropriately accompanied by his own mordant commentary. It's a whole book full of true sick jokes.

In his introduction, Marsano contends that the lead stories in newspapers are always the same and could be subsumed under the collective headline "Outlook Still Gloomy." The real creativity of the human species, he asserts, is reflected in those little bizarre and absurd stories at the foot of news columns. Take, for instance, the one about the 10-year-old Georgia boy who won an award for his science project -- an electric chair. He used an old belt for leg and arm cuffs, a baseball cap for a headpiece and the chair lit up when the juice was turned on.

Among Marsano's other tidbits:

A worn, painted plank with three holes in it was sold at auction, fetching $50. It was an outhouse seat painted 30 years before by artist Willem de Kooning.

Thai television decided to show the series Laverne and Shirley. However, it faced the problem that unmarried Thai young women never live alone, but always with their families. So the government network preceded each program wth a slide explaining that Laverne and Shirley had escaped from a lunatic asylum.

An Illinois man has been getting a coconut as a present every Christmas since 1948 and claims he has no idea who sends it or why. A note always accompanies the present, reading "To the Daddy from the Thing." Over the year, the coconut has been delivered by FBI men, the police, mayors, helicopters, parachute, horseback and by a college basketball team.

Lowell Davis, 83, of Savannah, Mo., is writing down the name of every person he ever remembers meeting. So far he has filled 679 pages with 3,500 names. Where possible, Davis adds a descriptive note, such as "Leonard McKnight -- fond of chicken gravy."

Hans Dietman and his mother of Vancouver, British Columbia, had as a hobby soaking postage stamps off envelopes. When they departed Vancouver, they left behind 50 million stamps -- by far the largest collection ever known.

You get the idea, and can now make a pretty good guess about what takes place in the title anecdote of Man Suffocated by Potatoes. There are 284 pages of Marsano's stories and he asks that readers send in their own favorites to Signet, so another volume may be the offing.

Lana's Daughter

THOSE OLD enough to remember the actress Lana Turner will recall the killing of Johnny Stomponato -- a Hollywood mobster and the film star's lover -- by Lana's 14-year-old daughter Cheryl.

The case against Cheryl was dismissed on the grounds of justifiable homicide -- she was never even indicted. But she was taken from the custody of Lana and her family and made a ward of the court. She had a troubled adolescence, running away from corrective institutions on several occasions. However, she managed to pull her life together and is today a hard-working adult, very protective of her privacy. She is on good terms with her mother.

Cheryl's history came up again a few years ago when Lana published her autobiography. Now the daughter has told her own story. The manuscript, written with Cliff Jahr, aroused much interest among publishers and was sold after a lively auction to Arbor House for the hardcover and Avon for the paperback. Titled Detour: A Hollywood Story, it will probably be out later this year, with a projected hardcover first printing of 150,000.

"Cheryl's childhood was, in many ways, quite horrific," said Allan Mayer, editorial director of Arbor House. "In a way, the Stomponato stabbing wasn't even the worst thing that happened to her, although it was right up there." Mayer says that although the portrait of Lana is "warts-and-all," the book is not another Mommie Dearest, the scathing autobiography published by Joan Crawford's daughter.

Intellectual Freedom

UNDER A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the District of Columbia Library this week will open a reading and dicusssion series called "Don't Read These Books? An Exploration of Issues in Intellectual Freedom." The series is built around five works that have been banned, or widely challenged, as suitable for adult readers in the United States. They are The Awakening by Kate Chopin; Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen; and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Robert M. O'Neil, president of the University of Virginia, a scholar of civil liberties issues, will present the keynote address in the series on Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in Room A-5 of the Martin Luther King Library, 901 G St. NW. Later, participants in the program -- which, like the O'Neil lecture, is free -- will explore the issues of intellectual liberty raised by the books. There will be biweekly programs using the texts at the King Library (727-1221), the Chevy Chase Regional Branch Library (727-1341), the Francis A. Gregory Regional Branch Library (727-1349) and the Northeast Branch Library (727-1365). For a schedule, call 727-1186 or one of the participating libraries.

In the Margin

CORETTA SCOTT KING has chosen the University of California Press to publish her husband's papers. They will be edited by Clayborne Carson, a Stanford historian. The collection of papers is projected to be 12 volumes and will include speeches, sermons, letters, articles and other writings. It will be the first comprehensive and scholarly edition of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s works. The first volume, covering King's family life and early career up to the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, is slated for publication in 1990, with other volumes following at one-year intervals.

The 1960s seem to be coming back into vogue. Not only are we surrounded by Vietnam War movies, but there is much action on the publishing front. Random House will publish Tom Hayden's autobiography in the spring of next year. A founder of the Students for a Democratic Society and a member of the Chicago Seven, Hayden, now 47 and a California Assemblyman, will review in the book the events of the 1960s and his participation in them. ::