Joseph Mastrangelo, 77, a former Washington Post staff writer and news artist who worked for the paper from the mid-1960s to early 1980s, died of a heart ailment Sept. 18 at his home in Washington.
Mr. Mastrangelo was the quintessential "newspaperman" of the old school. As an artist, he spent years composing all maps that appeared in The Post and also retouched news photos that ran in the paper. As a writer, his forte was the feature story that nominally was about summer or Christmas or even how to buy a trash can, but was really about his own, sometimes skewed, adventures involving the topic.
His feature stories appeared everywhere from the op-ed page to the Metro section but usually appeared in the Style section, where he came to write the "Out & About" column. He was a master of the humorous story, in which he was the man for whom nothing ever seemed to go right.
He also could write affecting pieces on his years as a submariner in World War II and about the more sobering aspects of service for one's country. In recent years, in addition to writing a syndicated humor column, he had been active in several associations of World War II submarine veterans.
Although most of his Post career was technically in the art department, he received his greatest public recognition for his essays. A man of effervescent moods and questionable cigars, he was often clad in mismatched suits, colorful shirts and unusual ties. His life was such that even his birth became the subject of a column:
"I was the ninth child in a family of 12, and I came along during a period in my father's life when he just might have been getting a little weary of kids.
"The night I was born, so the family legend goes (my parents were living in Roxbury, Mass., at the time), my father had come down with typhoid fever.
"While the doctor was paying attention to my father, my mother quietly went into the other bedroom and I was born. The whole visit came to $5."
Another of his columns told of his brother, a soldier who was captured by the Germans on D-Day and held until the war's end, and his return to the family. The story took a series of typically Mastrangelo turns.
Mr. Mastrangelo recounted that the Army told them that his brother had "a hard time of it" as a prisoner of war and that the family should not mention the war and should help him avoid sudden noises and excitement in general.
The family picked up the former POW at an Army base, and, as the column said, "My brother some time later told me how amazed he was when he arrived in the States and sat in the back seat of our car between our parents with two sisters in front, one driving.
"It was about a two-hour drive," he said, "and not one word was mentioned about where the hell I had been for the past couple of years, but they talked about everything else."
When they arrived home, the huge extended family and most of the people on the block showed up for a party. More and more merrymakers arrived, with the former POW calmly sipping beer in the living room and everyone trying to avoid mentioning the war. Then, complications arose in the kitchen, where the Mastrangelo mother was cooking a roast that suddenly began billowing clouds of smoke.
Mr. Mastrangelo went on to write that his mother called the fire department and that "her message to them became an often-repeated family gem: 'Please, my son just got home from a German prison camp and he has to be kept from becoming excited.
" 'But there is a small fire in the oven, and I wonder if you could send one small engine. Don't make any noise and come in the back way.' "
The column went on to report that "[t]he locals responded with everything they had. Police cars blocked off the ends of the street, firemen tore around unwinding hoses, the street filled up with curious onlookers. Firemen came running into the house while family and relatives were running out."
Mr. Mastrangelo said his brother remained in the living room, sipping his beer, but later told our columnist that "he was delighted to report back to Fort Bragg and the quietness of an Army barracks."
Joseph Mastrangelo's wartime service began Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, when he enlisted in the Merchant Marine. After the Germans torpedoed his first ship, off the coast of Cuba, he transferred to the Navy, taking part in submarine combat patrols in the Pacific during the remainder of the war.
He attended the Art Students League in New York, then was an editorial artist for a fistful of New York newspapers. These included the New York Star, PM, the New York Post, the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times. He also did artwork for the Tex McCrary television show and inked Walt Kelly's pencil drawings for the Sunday "Pogo" comic strip.
Mr. Mastrangelo had one story he used both to illustrate the duties of an editorial artist and the then-heated rivalry for circulation and prestige between the Herald Tribune and the Times.
He said he was retouching photos at the Herald Tribune one night when a glamorous picture of Britain's Princess Margaret arrived on the desk, showing a surprising amount of cleavage for a conservative "family" paper of the day. A debate erupted: With sensitive readers in mind, should the cleavage be "eliminated" by art department magic? Or, in the interest of "truth," should the picture run as is?
Mr. Mastrangelo reported that in the first editions, the Herald Trib showed the cleavage, the Times inked it out. After another huddle, the second Herald Trib edition also inked out the offending cleavage--but the Times also had a change of heart and this time showed the picture untouched. By the third edition, both papers had killed the picture.
Mr. Mastrangelo's wife, Mary S., whom he married in 1949, died in 1997.
Survivors include two daughters, Susan Mastrangelo of New York and Ann Mastrangelo of Boston; two sisters; a brother; and two grandchildren.