The New York Press Club was thrilled when Bill Gallo agreed to create a cover for the 2010 edition of the Club's Byline Magazine. It was in 2010 that the Press Club presented Gallo with its President's Award for lifetime achievment. The cover and several other drawings created for the magazine by Bill are included throughout this obituary from the New York Daily News.
Bill Gallo, sports cartoonist at the Daily News for more than half a century and whose career at the paper spanned 70 years, died of complications from pneumonia at 88 in White Plains Hospital late last night. His passing marks the close of what seemed always to be an endless supply of ink and fun in the pages of The News. Inside our building, Gallo would walk around the big newsroom talking sports, bouncing ideas off coworkers or showing off his latest, comical work to everyone's delight.
"My father is a lasting legend to New York, and to New York sports," said Gallo's son Greg. "He will be forever thought of as a great cartoonist for the Daily News, but he will also be remembered as the gentleman he was to all the people he came across, everybody in the streets of the city. People loved him because he was a special human being."
In recent months, while he fought off emphysema and a series of medical setbacks, Gallo continued to draw his cartoons and write columns from hospital beds and his home, surrounded by trays of colored pencils and erasers, dark pens and paint brushes sticking out of a Dixie cup. He would send his creations by overnight mail or ask a coworker to bring them to the office, checking in often by phone with editors.
"I'm just as enthusiastic about work today as I've ever been," Gallo said shortly before his death. "If I wasn't sick I'd be putting out some great stuff."
His last cartoon was just fine, appearing in the News on Tuesday, April 19. Appropriately enough, it featured the beloved Bertha, who was shown window shopping for a wardrobe while hoping expecting, even to receive an invitation to the royal wedding in London.
"The passing of our great cartoonist, colleague and friend Bill Gallo marks the end of an era,'' said Daily News Chairman & Publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman. "From the time he arrived at the Daily News as a fresh-faced kid determined to make his mark in the city and the world, to the very end when he battled his final illness with grit, courage and grace - rarely skipping a cartoon or a column - Bill was a class act."
Gallo was an entrenched New York institution, yet somehow always remained vibrant and topical.
His drawings grace both a midtown art gallery and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Although Gallo was known to most as the creator of his daily sports cartoon, he was also many other things during his long life: war hero, artist, family man, writer and boxing expert.
"Bill Gallo was a great artist but an even greater guy," said Daily News Editor in Chief Kevin R. Convey. "He had an eye for the humor and absurdity of life, a knack for capturing the city and its characters and a heart as big as the place he called home. We'll miss him terribly, and we'll never forget him. Our hearts go out to his family and friends."
His friends came from all walks of life, ranging from Muhammad Ali to New York police commissioner Ray Kelly. Gallo made time for peers, athletes, officials and fans, appearing at innumerable charitable events. He juggled many art and book projects, well into his 80s. He could hold court at any city tavern or ballroom with tales of sports events from a bygone era.
"I can't imagine the Daily News without Bill," said Teri Thompson, managing editor for sports. "It was an incredible honor to work with someone who so loved our business, and could take you back to Joe DiMaggio and Joe Louis in one moment and to Tiger Woods and Carmelo Anthony the next, all with a smile and a flick of the pen."
Gallo came to newspapering naturally. He was born in Manhattan on Dec. 28, 1922, the son of Frank and Henrietta Gallo. His father had immigrated to America from Spain and worked for La Prensa, before dying at 36 of pneumonia when Bill was only 11. That tragedy marked Gallo in many ways, as he vowed to follow his dad's footsteps into the business.
Gallo studied art in high school and eventually landed a job as a copy boy at The News. "I did everything except sweep the floor, and I did that too," Gallo said.
He joined the Marine Corps during World War II, fighting with the Fourth Division in Roi-Namur, Tinian and Iwo Jima.
"He was an all-around superhero, an American hero," said Kelly, who met Gallo nearly 30 years ago at an event for Marine veterans and remained his close friend. "There were 25,000 American lives lost at Iwo Jima, and Bill survived to become this man of amazing energy."
He returned after four years to The News as a picture clerk, while enrolling under the GI Bill at Columbia University and what later became the School of Visual Arts. He worked days, attended classes at night.
In 1950, he married Dolores Rodriguez and became a full-time artist at the News. He was generously shown the ropes by sports cartoonist Leo O'Mealia. Gallo's first published cartoon in The News was of the boxer Kid Gavilan, which so impressed sports editor Charlie Hoerter that it was used in place of an action photograph.
After O'Mealia died in 1960, Gallo was promoted to the sports cartoonist's post he held until his death. The job was challenging, from the start. He was assigned to illustrate the Yankees-Pirates World Series that year, which see-sawed back and forth until Bill Mazeroski's homer in the ninth inning of Game 7.
"I had to change the feature part of that cartoon three times before Mazeroski ended it - and almost me," Gallo told The Sporting News in 1961.
While Gallo enjoyed chronicling the successes of the Yankees, he always seemed to have a greater affinity for the poor sufferers of the world, such as the early Mets. He loved Casey Stengel, and invented Basement Bertha to represent a faithful, distressed supporter. His kid character, Yuchie, also demonstrated great empathy for losers.
Over the years, Gallo would create nearly as many regular characters as he received awards. Those lampooned including George Steinbrenner himself never seemed to mind, even considering such treatment an honor. Gallo's work could also elicit aching emotion, as he did with the cartoon showing Thurman Munson up in heaven.
"No matter who came into the office, no matter what walk of life, Bill would take the time to talk to him and help him," said Delores Thompson, assistant to the sports editor. "On many occasions, he would draw cartoons or portraits of visitors or their kids."
He'd get his ideas from everywhere, and quite often from conversations he overheard on the train while commuting to work from his home in Yonkers. Once he had it figured out, Gallo would require only minutes to visualize and then pen or brush a fresh cartoon on his art board.
"I've enjoyed Bill's work since I was a boy growing up in New Jersey, reading the Daily News every day," said Rick Stromoski, creator of the comic, "Soup to Nutz" and a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. "He was an inspiration as well as a mentor as I got to know him personally. He was a great cartoonist and an even better friend, a class act all the way."
Other cartoonists appreciated him greatly. He received the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 1998. He was awarded the Page One Journalism Award 20 times, along with an achievement award for alumni from the School of Visual Arts.
As a columnist on his favorite sport, Gallo received the James J. Walker Award from the Boxing Writers Association and the Champions Award from the Downtown Athletic Club. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He wrote movingly last year of his experiences in the Pacific and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
There were honors, banquets and ceremonies. Gallo always reveled in the company and the stories, feeling right at home in the city's melting pot, an expression he loved and lived.
"Because there's where the strength is," he said in his last interview, conducted on the same day he entered the hospital for the last time. "Right there lies the essence."
"Nobody was quite sure what that name, 'Gallo,' was … Italian, Irish, Puerto Rican?" Sugar said. "So all ethnic groups wanted to honor him and he accepted honors from everybody, never turned one down."
Gallo continued working prodigiously, well past conventional retirement age, always searching for new outlets for his talents.
Bill Gallo cover for New York Press Club's 2010 Byline Magazine
"He had a tremendous work ethic, maybe because he was a Depression Era kid," said Phil Cornell, a News features editor who worked with Gallo on his 2000 book, "Drawing a Crowd: Bill Gallo's Greatest Sports Moments."
"He was always kicking around ideas," Cornell said. "The early death of his father was a defining event for him. He became the man of the house, and that had a profound effect on him."
Gallo wrote of that event in a 2005 column, "This One's for You, Dad":
"For years, after his 11th birthday, the boy's heart ached every Father's Day," he wrote. "The boy was this writer and I'll try not to make this a sad song. It's a song of struggles, survival and triumphs. It's about my father, a newspaperman who died much before his time."
Perhaps that's why Gallo drew countless wedding invitations and marriage proposals and birthday cards for the members of the Daily News staff and for his family and friends. He was honored to be asked, and one of his last drawings was for his granddaughter, Amy.
"Our daughter is getting married in September and he so wanted to make it to that day," said Greg Gallo. "He did a sketch for her for the wedding and he told her, 'I hope I make it, Amy.'"
Bill Gallo is survived by his wife, Dolores; his son, Greg, the former sports editor at the Post; his son, Bill Jr., director of racing for the National Steeplechase Association in Maryland; a brother, Henry; and four granddaughters, Stephanie, Amy, Marianna and Isabella and a great granddaughter, Alexa Rose.
Plus, of course, Basement Bertha and Yuchie.