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Bill Gallo Dead: New York Daily News Sports Cartoonist Dies At 88

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BILL GALLO
AP

NEW YORK — Bill Gallo, a cartoonist and columnist for the New York Daily News, whose playful characters included depicting the blustering New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in a spiked Prussian military helmet, has died. He was 88.

Gallo, who worked for the paper for seven decades, died Tuesday from complications of pneumonia at White Plains Hospital, according to the Daily News.

"The passing of our great cartoonist, colleague and friend Bill Gallo marks the end of an era," said Daily News publisher Mortimer Zuckerman in statement Wednesday.

"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," Zuckerman said.

Gallo profiled in ink and sometimes in words most of the great sports figures of the past century, going back to Jack Dempsey, Man O' War, Jesse Owens and Dizzy Dean and his St. Louis Cardinals' Gas House Gang. The Gas House Gang were his secret heroes, he told The Associated Press in an interview in 2000, secret because he devoted a lifetime at a drawing board to amusing New York's rabidly loyal sports fans.

Among his memorable characters, aside from General Von Steingrabber, were Basement Bertha and Yuchie, who represented devoted Mets fans. The News said Gallo's last cartoon ran in the paper on April 19. It showed Bertha window shopping and hoping to be invited to the royal wedding.

In a column last year, Gallo said he chose the General Von Steingrabber moniker for Steinbrenner because the Yankees owner grabbed so much of the newspaper's space.

"Bill Gallo was the voice of generations of New Yorkers," Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "My father was a frequent subject of his work, and he had tremendous respect for Bill's talents."

He once drew an overweight Muhammad Ali pushing his stomach before him in a wheelbarrow. Ali hung the original in his training camp as an incentive to get in shape for the Larry Holmes fight.

Gallo used his craft to address other subjects as well, including a tribute to the 9/11 firefighters and police officers and the devastation of the terrorist attacks on the city.

His drawings can be found in a Manhattan art gallery and at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He told the AP that as a child, he dreamed of becoming a star reporter like his father, Francisco, a byline writer and editor at La Prensa, New York's prestigious Spanish language newspaper.

He also dreamed of becoming a cartoonist like Milton Caniff, who drew "Terry and the Pirates," his favorite comic strip. From age 5, the aspiring artist never left the house without a crayon and a bit of scratch paper.

Gallo was born in Manhattan on Dec. 28, 1922, and grew up across the river in Queens.

He started as a copy boy at the Daily News just after he graduated from high school.

He took a break from the paper to join the Marines during World War II, landing in a foxhole on Iwo Jima where 6,820 of his Marine comrades died. New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly, also a former Marine, said his friend Gallo never wore on his sleeve the horror he witnessed at war.

"He just left his job at the Daily News to join the Marines, and then came back when the war ended. No fuss, no muss," Kelly said. "He traded his carbine for pen and ink, and took no prisoners from then on."

After his WWII service, he returned to the Daily News and enrolled under the GI bill at Columbia University, according to the newspaper.

Laboring for decades for a big city tabloid, Gallo at his drawing board seemed to favor blue-collar spectator sports.

"I think I once did something with lacrosse," he confessed sheepishly to the AP.

Kelly said Gallo had a soft spot for the underdog. "He revered greats like (Mickey) Mantle, not for being on top but for the pain he played through," he said. "He loved boxers and reviled the charlatans who bled them dry. Boxers were like Bill, all heart and skilled with their hands."

Gallo told the AP he regarded basketball's Michael Jordan as the most gifted athlete he ever drew, and rated baseball's Joe DiMaggio, boxing's Sugar Ray Robinson, hockey's Wayne Gretzky and football's Jim Brown as the tops in their professions.

He is survived by his wife, Dolores; his son, Greg; a son, Bill; a brother, Henry; and four granddaughters.

"People tend to make a lot about age, but I don't think of myself as an old guy," Gallo told the AP in 2000. "My philosophy on age is: Don't bother me, I'm busy."