Sunday, February 25, 2018

Leo “The Lion” – Cartoonist O’Mealia


1913 [1] Odd Facts About Stars of Prize Ring, in The San Francisco Call, Sep 15. “…“Jack” Johnson always laughs when in the ring…”
“What did Leo do today?” was the question from the steady Daily News readers of his time. A sports cartoonist like no other I’ve seen doing this work, Leo had a style all his own. It was pen and ink painstakingly applied — line by line — by his talented hand, adding to it a whimsical sense of humor. He signed his name “By Leo” and put his trademark small lion in every drawing. The lion was a lovable little squirt of an animal who sometimes would run around the edges of the cartoon delivering a message. A cartoon without that lion was not a genuine Leo. — sporting cartoonist Bill Gallo, 1960

1913 [2] Lion plus Leo signature.

Leo Edward O’Mealia was born in Le Roy, New York, March 31, 1884. The family moved when he was fourteen and he grew up in Rochester New York where he “played baseball in the Caledonian Avenue vacant lots that back up to the Pennsylvania Railroad yards, and he was a pupil in Immaculate Conception school.” O’Mealia’s first job as a cartoonist was on the old Rochester Herald under John Scott Clubb where “I was put on sports … they made an artist out of me.” His most popular creation was called Sod Bug, about an insect who commented on local baseball games. From the Herald he moved to the Rochester Times, still drawing sporting cartoons, and compiling a collection of his newspaper cartoons titled Mut and Flea Brain Leaks. He sold over 1000 copies in advance of publication.
   
1913 [3] Three Men in a Tub, in The Evening Herald, July 29. “…I thought it was very dangerous, but it’s nothing but cheese!…”
Mr. O’Mealia worked on the New York Journal under the late Winsor McCay, once one of the best-known cartoonists in the country, and was assistant to the famous “Tad” Dorgan, the sports cartoonist of the daily paper. When Tad’s heart, which he always said was one of those “dime-a-dozen tickers,” gave out, Leo subbed and later succeeded the renowned Dorgan. Comic Strip Artist Visiting Old Home Town, in Rochester Democrat Chronicle, Aug 3, 1935
Winsor McCay was drawing political cartoons for Hearst at the time and touring the vaudeville circuit with the animated Gertie the Dinosaur. The company made a stop in Rochester and played the Temple theatre. John (Mickey) Finny, the Temple’s manager, introduced McCay to O’Mealia over a poker game. Through McCay’s intercession he was given a job as cartoonist on the “sporting side” of the New York Evening Journal. There he was given into the charge of sporting cartoonists/columnists Tad Dorgan and Hype Igoe.
   
1913 [4] The History of a White Hope No. 1, in The San Francisco Call, Sep 2. “…He “threw” all the strong men…”
On the journal he was doing small fill in bits when Arthur Brisbane, Hearst’s great editor, stopped at the young man’s drawing board, admired his work, and advanced him to a full-fledged sports cartoonist. At that time, he adopted the slogan “Leo the Lion,” which has identified his sports cartoons ever since.Seen and Heard, Henry W. Clune, Democrat Chronicle, June 13, 1957
1913 [5] The History of a White Hope, in The San Francisco Call, Oct 15. “…Moran walked all around the ring…”
The Great White Hope era began on Dec 27, 1908 when Negro boxer Jack Johnson defeated the Canadian Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia. Jack London, journalist, called for retired champion James Jeffries to return to the ring to “remove the smile from Johnson’s face.” The period ended April 5, 1915 when Jack Johnson lost the Heavyweight Championship to Jess Willard at Havana, Cuba.

1913 [6] Here’s a Regular Hard Luck Story, in The San Francisco Call, Oct 27. “…He holds the stakes…”
One of O’Mealia’s one-panel serials on the sports page was about a boxer named George “Sledge” Seiger, titled The History of a White Hope. O’Mealia left after two years to draw comic strips for Associated Newspapers syndicate. For the next seventeen years he drew comic strips. Among them were Little Pal, Freddie’s Film, Jungle Definitions and Wedlocked. In 1929 he began drawing an adventure strip called Sherlock Holmes (the Conan Doyle character he was also illustrating reissues of novels at the time) followed by another comic strip, Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu.

1930 [7] Sherlock Holmes – The Musgrave Ritual; A New Adventure, Leo O’Maelia comic strip after Conan Doyle.
The busy cartoonist was reported to have assisted Percy Crosby on Skippy and Robert Ripley on Believe It or Not. He gave up comic strips in the early 30s to work as a free-lance illustrator and as a comic book artist at National periodicals drawing for More Fun, Action, Adventure and Detective Comics. He was one of the cartoonists Jerry Siegel considered for the drawing of Superman.

1950s [8] “I’ll string along.” Opening of the Baseball Season — with the  Pirates, Reds, Orioles, Senators, and a Dodger fan.
1950s [9] Photo of Leo O’Mealia.
In 1939 O’Mealia signed on with the New York Daily News. His first assignment was illustrating Jimmy Powers sporting column. Leo (“The Lion”) Edward O’Mealia died on May 7, 1960, at Brooklyn, New York.

1955 [10] Who’s a Bum! Leo O’Mealia’s classic victory cover outsold every other paper that October Wednesday when the Dodgers beat the Yankees — read Bill Gallo’s background story in our Further Reading link to the Daily Mail.
     
Other cartoonists signing with ‘Leo’ were the American Leo Hershfield, the Dutch Leo Debudt, and the Dutch Alfred Leonardus Mazure or Maz.


FURTHER READING. Genuine Leo – Gallo Remembers Leo O’Mealia, by sporting cartoonist Bill Gallo in the New York Daily News, May 8, 1960 HERE.


2 comments:

  1. Nice piece, John. I have always loved O'Mealia's work for National, but didn't know much about the sports work.
    Correction: Jerry Siegel, not Joe.

    Darrell Coons

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Darrell, and the Jerry/Joe mixup is fixed!

    ReplyDelete