George Gately, Creator of Heathcliff

17 May 2002

    The parents of the Gallagher family were cartoon lovers. They were so supportive of cartooning that two of their three sons became cartoonists. John Gallagher became a well-known magazine gag cartoonist. His younger brother George became the creator of two syndicated cartoons, Hapless Harry and the famously saucy Heathcliff.

    George Gately Gallagher was born in New York City’s Queens Village on December 21, 1928. George’s father was an amateur artist. He collected magazine comics in scrapbooks to encourage his sons to learn how to cartoon. George attended school in Bergenfield, New Jersey and went on to the Pratt Institute in New York City to study art. After an eleven-year career as a commercial artist at an advertising agency, he felt uncreative and bored. He decided to give cartooning a try.

    Sometime in the 1950’s, John Gallagher introduced George to the cartoon editor of the Saturday Evening Post. While George’s cartoons were good, she said that they were too similar to his brother’s work to be using the same last name. Thus, George let the Gallagher name go. In it’s place, he used Gately, his second name. His cartooning career had begun to take shape.

    George Gately sold his first cartoon in 1957. Colliers, Parade and The Saturday Evening Post published his humourous panels and he started to make a name for himself as a successful freelance cartoonist. In 1964, he gave syndication a try through the Chicago Tribune-New York News with his comic, “Hapless Harry.” The main character was a loveable loser with no luck at all. Sadly, the strip did not catch on and was cancelled after a few years. Since George was an in-demand cartoonist, he had no trouble continuing his freelance work for magazines and greeting cards. He also had a yen to become a professional musician.

Gately 2

    A shamelessly uncouth, but uproarious, fat orange cat took over George’s pencil in 1971. With tongue-in-cheek, he named the funny rascal Heathcliff, after the famed character in the Bronte book classic, “Wuthering Heights.” Heathcliff leapt into syndication in 1973 with the McNaught Syndicate and immediately caught the attention of cartoon readers. With the success of Heathcliff, George was forced to choose between music and cartooning. He put his musical desires on the back burner. The popular panel is now with Creator’s Syndicate and appears in over 1,000 newspapers around the world. (The McNaught Syndicate folded around 1988.)

    Heathcliff and his egotistical antics are followed and loved by millions of fans. He was named as the “Cat of the Century” by a leading cat magazine. George Gately often received invitations to attend cat shows and was inundated by fans wanting his autograph, not for themselves, but for their cats. The cartoonist kindly complied.

    Animation came next for the cat, beginning in 1980 on the ABC network. Heathcliff has appeared in over 80 TV shows and in a full-length movie. There are over 50 Heathcliff books, with more than a million copies printed. George Gately was awarded the distinctive honour of having his cartoon art displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

    The favourite cartoon panel was built on the classic humour of the pet ruling over the household. The outrageous cat has a full array of characteristics, from rude and amoral to fuzzy and loving and is a source of laughter and frustration for the family he lives with. (And for the bulldog, Spike, who lives next door to Heathcliff .)

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    The on-going creation of Heathcliff was a full-time career for George. In 1978, he hired an assistant, Bob Laughlin, to help with the artwork. He also made use of the artistic talents of his cartoonist brother, John. George Gately suffered from emphysema and a weight problem. On September 30, 2001 at the age of 72, he died of a heart attack at Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, New Jersey.

    Cartooning continues to run in the Gallagher family. George had given up drawing Heathcliff a few years before his death, passing the famous tabby on to his nephew. Heathcliff continues to entertain his many fans under the creative pen of Peter Gallagher.

Catch Heathcliff daily:
http://www.creators.com/comics_show.cfm?comicname=hth

An obituary notice/biography about George Gately from Guardian Unlimited:
http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,564181,00.html

A short biography on George Gately:
http://www.lambiek.net/gately_george.htm

© Susanna McLeod 2002
TheCartoonists.ca  
   
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)