Growing up in New York City, it was hard to be a sports fan and not be influenced by the work of NY Daily News sports cartoonist Bill Gallo. His work had a way of touching the hearts and minds of sports fans. This combination of visceral imagery and timely topics were a treat for sports fans on a daily basis, and Gallo also gave credit to them to connect with his subjects on an emotional and intellectual level. Of course, Gallo possessed great humor, and that is no doubt the aspect of his work that will be remembered as fondly as the man himself.
Bill had the talent for capturing the essence of a great sports moment. We always hear that pictures say one thousand words; if that is the case, Gallo’s drawings spoke ten times that. He could take something so astounding – like Joe Frazier beating Muhammad Ali – and sum it up with an amazing image, in this case of the constantly boasting Ali with his mouth zippered shut. This was the kind of work he did – connecting with what the sports fan was feeling and going beyond for a catharsis as well.
Over the years there were so many great images, but as a Mets fan I am very partial to Basement Bertha. Though Gallo covered all sports teams for the paper with his drawings, the ones of the slightly strange, overweight, and unattractive Bertha – as representative of all the suffering Mets fans – struck a chord with the public. With Bertha we Mets fans suffered, but we never suffered alone.
There are so many amazing Gallo cartoons, but he was also known for writing his column. I would always look forward to read what he had to say about sports legends, and his tenure at the News enabled him to encounter many of the greats. It goes without saying that Gallo was universally loved by all, even those who were depicted in his drawings in sometimes less than flattering ways. George Steinbrenner – drawn as the grunting, angry, irascible General von Steingrabber – got the joke and was honored to be in those cartoons.
Bill Gallo also wrote beautifully about his experiences during World War II. He sometimes included images of a GI in his cartoons, and my Dad (as a WWII vet) always felt an affinity for Gallo, thinking that he displayed the same pluck and heroism in the newspaper each day as he had done on the battlefield in Iwo Jima.
When a great sports broadcaster – like Howard Cosell – passes away, it is usually said that he was “silenced” in death. In this case we can say that a great sports cartoonist’s hand has been stopped, and the emptiness of those pages in the NY Daily News, ones that will never be graced with another Gallo masterpiece, will speak louder than words.
Photo Credits: New York Daily News