Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo dies

Courtesy Drew Litton

NEW YORK -- Bill Gallo, a cartoonist and columnist for the New York Daily News, whose playful characters included that of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as General Von Steingrabber, has died. He was 88.

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

"His death closed a chapter in the storied history of The News," said Daily News chairman and publisher Mortimer Zuckerman. "The passing of our great cartoonist, colleague and friend Bill Gallo marks the end of an era."

"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.

A funeral mass will be held Friday at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Patrick, Fifth Avenue and 51st Street in New York.

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 latter 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.

Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner said his late father admired Gallo's talents.

"Through his work as a cartoonist and columnist, Bill Gallo was the voice of generations of New Yorkers. My father was a frequent subject of his work, and he had tremendous respect for Bill's talents," Steinbrenner said. "My family and the entire Yankees organization offer our condolences to his wife, Dolores, and the Gallo family."

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 one of the classiest guys I've ever worked with. He was a true gentleman," said ESPNNewYork.com executive editor Leon Carter, a former sports editor at the Daily News. "He always had uplifting words for young people who visited the Daily News office."

Gallo had a set routine that helped him produce cartoons for the Daily News' sports section, Carter said.

"For 10 years, he would stop by my office around 10:25 in the morning to discuss the day's hot topics. We had great chats. It was a great way to start the day," Carter recalled. "He would then go to his drawing board and later deliver his cartoon. Always a winner.

"It's a sad day in New York."

Gallo 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.

But he 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.

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 once told the AP. "My philosophy on age is: don't bother me, I'm busy."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.