He was a legend, a hero of journalism and a fighting Marine. Bill Gallo, a brilliant cartoonist and a proud New Yorker, has died at 88.
He loved the newspaper business. He abhorred phonies. He drew incisive cartoons for the New York Daily News for six decades.
Bill was a gentle man. He never used his cartoonist pen to take unfair advantage of anyone . But I remember an award ceremony when I sat next to him as we heard a self-centered, narcissistic figure in the journalistic profession making a speech.. “Phony,” he whispered. “He’s full of himself. Who the hell does he think he is?”
While he took journalism very seriously, Gallo couldn’t stand people whom he believed pretended to be journalists. This guy was one of those and Bill couldn’t stomach him.
Gallo was born in Manhattan. His father and mother were natives of Spain. After graduating from high school, Bill got a copy boy’s job on the Daily News -- in the good old days that was considered a path to journalistic success.
Soon after, Gallo joined the Marine Corps and served in combat in the South Pacific, at Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. After attending Columbia under the GI Bill of Rights he joined the Sports Department of the News.
His sports cartoons were amazing. He managed to capture the life and times of sports heroes -- and not neglect the problems they confronted. He profiled in ink and words many great sports figures going back to Jack Dempsey, the racehorse Man O’War, Jesse Owens and pitcher Dizzy Dean and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Gas House Gang.
He had an acid pen but, often, his more sardonic references were softened with humor. Some classic cartoons portrayed the flamboyant Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, whom Gallo called General Von Steingrabber. He always drew Steinbrenner with a Prussian officer’s ornate helmet. You could almost hear Steinbrenner on the parade ground rasping out: “Achtung!”
Gallo idolized baseball’s Joe DiMaggio, boxing’s Sugar Ray Robinson, hockey’s Wayne Gretzky and football’s Jim Brown.
Once, when boxer Mohammed Ali had put on a lot of weight, Gallo drew Ali pushing his own belly in a wheelbarrow. The great boxer hung the original cartoon in his training camp. He said it gave him an incentive to take off weight.
Bill Gallo liked young people. He treated them warmly. He even drew special cartoons for them, recognizing that the kids had egoes too and liked to be recognized. Bill’s smile was all-embracing. He couldn’t hide that he liked people.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was moved by the news that a fellow Marine, Gallo, had died. He recalled that Gallo had served in Iwo Jima, where the U.S. suffered 26,000 casualties.
“Bill had a soft spot for the underdog," Kelly said. "He revered greats like Mantle, not for being on top but for the pain he played through. He loved boxers and reviled the charlatans who bled them dry.
“Boxers were like Bill, all heart and skilled with their hands.”
Gallo was distressed that many newspapers had closed down. When he illustrated a recent edition of the New York Press Club’s By-Line magazine, he made that clear. The cartoons showed a battered boxer, the newspaper industry, coming off the canvas and ultimately winning victory.
Once, we heard a speaker at a press forum predict that newspapers were gradually being driven out of business by the internet and other developments. “It’s never going to happen,” he told me. “It can’t happen because newspapers are irreplaceable.”
In the wake of Gallo’s death, people weighed in on the Internet. One read: “Bill Gallo epitomized the adage: say what you mean, mean what you say.” Another wrote: “Glad I had the privilege of growing up enjoying Bill’s talent.”
Bill Gallo’s epitaph has to be that he fought to keep newspapers alive, and contributed some things greatly needed: love and laughter.