Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo was a gem

Richard Carter | 8/24/2011, 3:39 p.m.
"And when he goes to heav- en, to Saint Peter he will tell. Another Marine...
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"And when he goes to heav- en, to Saint Peter he will tell. Another Marine reporting, sir, I've served my time in hell..."- Leonard Graves' narration, "Victory at Sea" (1952)

Once in a while, a familiar name in the news business pops up that makes me stop, look, listen and, occasionally, smile. Sometimes the name is that of someone who has distinguished him or herself. Sometimes it's because that someone has passed away.

The latter is the case with Bill Gallo-the legendary, long-time sports cartoonist-columnist of the New York Daily News, who diedonMay10attheageof88. And even as I put these words to paper, I find myself chuckling to recall our many interesting, informative conversations during my four years (1987-91) with that newspaper.

A native of Manhattan, Gallo began as a copy boy after high school in October 1941. Except for enlisting in the Ma- rines for service in World War II-where he took part in the historic, bloody battle for Iwo Jima-he remained at the paper until his passing.

Over the years, the affable Gallo gained fame for humorous, often poignant caricatures of countless sports figures. Among the most notable were Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson, Tiger Woods, George Foreman, Leon Spinks, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. His special creations included Backyard Bertha and Yuchie- representing New York Mets fans-and General Von Stein- grabber, his comic name for the late owner of the Yankees.

As a lifelong boxing fan, I was aware of Gallo's deep knowledge of the sport and his friendship with big-time fighters. Thus, when I came on board in June 1987, I quickly introduced myself, which led to a close, professional relationship. And I made sure he met my wife, Janice, who joined the News with me as an assistant to publisher Jim Hoge.

During one of our talks in his small office in a corner of the paper's city room, we discussed one of the greatest frauds in the history of boxing. It took place 46 years ago this week, May 25, 1965, in tiny Lewiston, Maine. In so doing,Gallo acknowledged what every objective boxing fan knew who saw it: The fight was fixed.

Gallo told me what I'd al- ways suspected: Charles "Son- ny" Liston clearly took a dive in a scandalous heavyweight title bout with young Muham- mad Ali, a.k.a. Cassius Clay, in the second of their two meetings. Liston-Ali II was as phony as a $3 bill. Gallo recalled the event in a Daily News column 27 years later on May 25, 1992. Head- lined, "It's still a mystery," he wrote: "Guys who saw the fight said that if, indeed, there was a punch, it wasn't as hard as if your sister had hit you-even if she was mad as hell. When Sonny hit the deck, I thought he had tripped or something. I was not alone. Everybody who saw the fight swore he or she had heard the splash from the water tank."

Clearly, the fearsome Liston-for reasons of his own- threw the fight after he was "hit" by the light-punching

Ali's "phantom punch." The problem is that Sonny was a bad actor, which was proven by his pathetic swoon from a laughable love tap.

Neil Leifer's famous magazine cover photo of Ali standing over his fallen foe perpetuated the myth of the event, which I saw via closed- circuit TV on a big movie screen in downtown Milwaukee. And I clearly recall the words of the legendary Joe Lou- is, a ringside analyst. Said Louis, "That punch was like throw- ing corn flakes at a battleship."

In agreement was the late New York boxing expert Art Rust Jr., author of five books on Louis, who spelled it out in a Dec. 6, 1987, Daily News column headlined "Did Liston fall for Clay?" The fighter converted to Islam before the bout to become Muhammad Ali.

But Ali would never own up to the phoniness. When I interviewed him in Milwaukee at Muhammad's Mosque No. 3 two weeks later and asked him point-blank about the so- called "phantom punch," he deadpanned: "I hit that chump hard." Uh-huh. This is some of what I recalled when I learned of Gallo's death in White Plains Hospital Center from pneumonia. I also think of his graciousness as I introduced him to Susan, my present wife, during a 1995 visit to the Daily News, then still at 220 E. 42nd St.

I also think back to 1990, when he was a guest on "Show- down"-the nationally televised talk show on CNBC I co-hosted with the late Morton Downey Jr. After I asked him about doing the show; he laughed heartily and replied, tongue-in-cheek, "I'd love to. But you'll have to protect me from Mort. He comes on like a wild man."

I assured him the wild man thing was simply Downey's TV persona and he really was a very nice guy. "You'll love him," I said, which Gallo did during our lively back-and-forth on his star-spangled news career and boxing, which, like me, Downey also loved.

At the time of Gallo's passing, current Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, said, "From the time [Gallo] 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 col- umn-Bill was a class act."

Gallo lived in Yonkers with his wife, Delores. Other survivors include a brother, Henry, two sons, Bill and Greg, and four granddaughters. Greg is former sports editor of the New York Post, proving that being a talent- ed journalist runs in their family.

I feel privileged for having known Bill Gallo. His graciousness, good nature and easy way helped make me cherish many of my days at the Daily News. I can't say that about everyone I've known in the news business, but Gallo was one of a kind. Rest in peace, old friend.