Wednesday, May 11, 2011

From the Balcony: Remembering Bill Gallo

Squawker Jon and I were very saddened by the passing of sports cartoonist Bill Gallo. Gallo was not just a legend; he was one of the nicest people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. And with his death, the journalism world -- and newspaper readers -- have suffered a huge loss.

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, I read the New York tabloids every day, and particularly enjoyed Gallo's Humor. We used to hang up the caricatures he drew of Yankees and Mets players that ran in the Sunday funnies. And who could ever forget his Thurman Munson tribute?

His creation Basement Bertha was as much as a cartoon fixture to me when I was a kid as Bugs Bunny and Snoopy. And that was just one of the many characters he came up with over the years. Who could forget Yuchie? General Von Steingrabber? And I still want a telekeg!

Gallo was the lead cartoonist for the Daily News' sports page for over 50 years, wrote a weekly column for the paper, and worked at the News since 1941. But there was a gap in his 70 years of working for the paper, when he served his country in World War II. As a Marine. At Iwo Jima. What a life!

So when I went to work for the New York Daily News in 2000, I was thrilled to get to meet Gallo. And he did not disappoint. His book Drawing a Crowd: Bill Gallo's Greatest Sports Moments had come out around that time, and I bought a copy of it to give to my father on his 80th birthday. I was introduced to Gallo, and with a little trepidation, I asked him if he would please autograph it to my father. He not only did so, but he drew a cake and candles on the page as well. After my father died in 2007, I asked for the book back when we divided up my father's things.

Over the years, I would see Gallo, or as I always called him, "Mr. Gallo," in the newsroom, and he was invariably friendly, and willing to share a story or an observation. When I got to read Richard Ben Cramer's book on Joe DiMaggio, I saw how Gallo was friends with Joe DiMaggio for many years, until the end of Joe D's life. This was quite a feat, given how DiMaggio was quick to anger -- and to hold a grudge. So I asked Gallo why the friendship lasted. He said it was two things -- that he never asked DiMaggio for anything, and he never brought up Marilyn Monroe!

Anyhow, the thing is with Gallo was that he was cordial and kind and giving to everybody he met, whether they be blue-collar or bluebloods. That is one of the reasons so many people are sad today at his passing. Even though Gallo was the most famous name at the paper, he never put on airs. You could always swing by his office and chat, no matter where you ranked in the pecking order.

However, I was unable to convince him to let me in at one of his Gallo's Geezers lunches at Gallagher's Steak House -- you had to be a senior citizen to go, and I didn't fit the bill for that! But those who did qualify by age were in for a real treat -- he had celebrities like Tom Brokaw, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Yogi Berra and Ralph Branca talk to his Geezers. Still wish I could have gone!

Gallo's was reknowned for his "From the Balcony" cartoons whenever an iconic sports figure died. The balcony, of course, was in the clouds, in heaven. Jon and I are sure that Bill Gallo is there now, surrounded by the same legends he once drew.

What do you think? Tell us about it!


nutballgazette said...

One of my favorite memories will make Jon happy, When the Jets won the Super Bowl, Bill did a cartoon with the Jets on the Moon and I think it was Bertha saying something like

What next the Mets?
I will see if I can find my scrapbook I made from 1968-89 Jets, late 69 Mets and 70 knicks, and try to make a copy and post it.

Uncle Mike said...

I have a hard time squaring the images of nice guys like Bill Gallo and Ernie Harwell with the image of the United States Marine Corps. Maybe they just worked out all their aggression on those Pacific beaches, and all they had left was generosity. Too high a price to pay, though.

But Bill didn't care if you were a "geezer" veteran of the wars he grew up hearing about (Civil War, Spanish-American, World War I) or a "kid" in the one we're in now, or whether you were labor or management, he understood that we're all human.

He was justifiably proud of one of the cartoons in "Drawing a Crowd": A battered kid boxer is comforted by the referee, who has mercifully stopped the fight. Bill said that, even though you can't see either man's face, you can feel the boxer's pain and the ref's compassion.

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