Monday, July 12, 2021

Comics: Searching for Gary Keller, Part 2

Back on July 25, 2016 I posted information on artist Theodore Keller who might have been Gary Keller, the Timely Comics letterer. It turns out Theodore was not Gary. A February 2021 comment by Daniel pointed to Gerrett Keller’s World War II draft card which said his employer was “Timely Comic Inc.” The search is over.

Gerrett “Gary” Keller was born on July 30 or 31, 1903, in Rockaway Beach, New York. His World War II draft card had 30 as the birth day but the Social Security Death Index had 31.

In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Keller was the only child of Theodore and Johanna. They lived in Rockaway Beach on Carle’s Dock. Keller’s father was a retail merchant of wine and liquor.

According to the 1915 New Jersey state census, the Kellers resided on Shippen Street in West Hoboken. Keller’s father was a driver.

Keller’s father signed his World War I draft card on September 12, 1918. His address was 1050 Hamblet Place in North Bergen, New Jersey. He was a machinist at the Arrow Machine Company.

Sixteen-year-old Keller and his parents were at the same address in the 1920 census. His father was a toolmaker at a machine shop.

On April 30, 1923 Keller and Lillian Schutz obtained a marriage license in Brooklyn, New York. The Times Union (Brooklyn, New York), May 1, 1923, published a notice of marriage licenses and said Keller’s address was 433 9th Avenue.

The 1925 New York state census said Keller, his wife and daughter, Dorothy, lived at 142 Beach 92 Street in Rockaway Beach. He worked as a chauffeur. Keller’s son, Warren, was born in late 1925. In 1927 Keller’s second daughter, Barbara, was born in Union City, New Jersey.
At some point Keller turned to another trade.
The 1929 Union City directory listed Keller as a sign painter. His address was 207 40th Street.

The 1930 census said Keller remained in Union City, but at a different address, 122 39th Street. He and his four-year-old son, Warren, lived with Keller’s parents. Keller’s wife resided with her parents in West New York, New Jersey. Some time later Keller and his wife got a divorce.

Keller has not yet been found in the 1940 census. On October 26, 1940 Keller married Helen Gandenberger who was born on January 29, 1897 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Their wedding anniversaries were reported in the Kingston Daily Freeman (New York). 
Keller moved to New York City and got a job at Timely Comics. On February 15, 1942, Keller signed his World War II draft card. His address was 71-21 Nansen Street, Forest Hills, New York. His description was five feet ten inches, 150 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair.

Keller was remembered by a number of artists and writers in the pages of Alter Ego.

#11, November 2001
Vince Fago interviewed by Jim Amash
Amash: Who worked on staff then?
Fago: Mike Sekowsky. Ed Winiarski. Gary Keller was a production assistant and letterer. Ernest Hart and Kin Platt were writers, but they worked freelance; Hart also drew. George Klein, Syd Shores, Vince Alascia, Dave Gantz, and Chris Rule were there, too.
#13, March 2002
Dave Gantz interviewed by Jim Amash
Amash: What else do you remember about the layout of the offices? [McGraw-Hill building]
Gantz: We had a room with on e window. It was maybe 18’ by 10’. I was there with George Klein, Ed Winiarski, writer Jack Grogan, Mike Sekowsky, and Marcia Snyder. Gary Keller was a like traffic manager, and he was there, too. Stan Lee had his own office, but it was nothing elaborate.
#20, January 2003
Bob Deschamps interviewed by Jim Amash
Deschamps: Well, I started at Timely Comics as a messenger/office boy. Gary Keller lived on my block in Forest Hills and I showed him some of my work. He said there was an opening for an office boy at Timely Comics. I said I’d be interested in that, and that’s how I got started at Timely. … Eventually, I took some stuff to Stan Lee, who liked it and said, “Okay, Monday morning you start here as a staff inker.”…

This was shortly after World War II, in 1945.…I learned to do thick and thin lines with a brush. People like Al Sulman and Gary Keller helped teach me….
#32, May 2004
Allen Bellman interviewed by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo
Vassallo: Do you remember Gary Keller?
Bellman: Yes. Gary was a manager of some sort. He had glasses and walked around. My goodness, I haven’t thought about him in 60 years! This really takes me way back. While I can’t really put a finger on exactly what Gary did I do recall that he was a very nice man. 
#35, April 2004
Al Jaffe interviewed by Jim Amash
Amash: Bob Deschamps told me that, too. He was there. So you remember Bob?
Jaffe: Oh, sure. Bob started out as an office boy. In fact, when I got out of the service, my wife and I were waiting for our house to be completed. We needed a place to stay until we could get into the house, and Gary Keller, who was the head of the lettering department at Timely, offered to rent us a room in his house. Gary’s house happened to be next door to the Deschamps’ house.

Bob Deschamps’ father brought him over to meet me for advice on how to get into the cartooning business. And I couldn’t give him any advice, because I had just gotten out of the service and was out of touch with everyone. I said, “Gary Keller should bring him up to Timely Comics and see if he can get Bob any kind of job, so he can hand around and see what we do.” That’s how Bob got started. He was a gofer …

Amash: What else do you remember about him Gary Keller?
Jaffee: In addition to being head of the lettering department, I think he also had an assignment from management to keep an eye on us. There were a lot of eyes on us, though some of that may have been a product of our paranoid imaginations. When people like him came into the bullpen, we wondered what they were doing there. There was a feeling among us the Gary was reporting to the higher-ups as to who was goofing off or who was doing this or that. I don’t have any hard evidence that he was doing that; it was just the impression we had.

Gary was substantially older than most of us. He and his wife were really survivors of the Depression, and he was a talented guy. If anything, he should have been a mechanical engineer. I saw some of his mechanical engineering, and he was brilliant. But fate throws us into strange occupations during hard times. Gary told me that he had been a traveler. He’d go from town to town, go into a diner, and for a meal, he’d do their showcase lettering. he was an excellent showcase letterer, which was a specialty in those days, but probably unheard-of now with the advent of computers. So he’d get a free meal by doing this work. He rode the rails and came back and married a woman named Helen. Towards the end of the war, they bought a house, which he fixed up a great deal.
#90, December 2009
Leon Lazarus interviewed by Jim Amash
Amash: Who hired you to be a letterer?
Lazarus: Gary Keller. He was in charge of the production department; gray haired…he was an old guy….
#104, August 2011
Al Sulman interviewed by Jim Amash
Amash: There was another guy—I guess he worked in the production department. His name was Gary Keller.
Sulman: I didn’t [have much contact with him]. I think he was in charge of the letterers. He used to assign artwork to certain letterers to ink and letter. The artists would put in the lettering in pencil, of course, and the letterers would ink it over. And Gary sort of supervised that.
Some of Keller’s comics credits are at the Grand Comics Database and Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999. It’s not clear how long Keller worked at Timely.

Keller was a registered Republican in the Board of Elections of the City of New York, List of Enrolled Voters for the Year 1947–1948. His address was 9102 71st Avenue in Forest Hills.

The same address was recorded in the 1950 census. Keller, his wife, son and father (a widower) were in the household. Keller’s occupation was production manager of newsstand publications. 

Apparently in the early 1950s Keller moved from Forest Hills to the Woodstock, New York area. An item in the Kingston Daily Freeman, April 7, 1952, said “Gary Keller, of Wittenberg, made and contributed a number of posters to aid the SPCA drive for funds for the proposed animal shelter.” The Kingston Daily Freeman, December 24, 1953, said Keller’s Christmas decorations for his home won first prize. The following year he won third prize. On May 11, 1955, Keller attend the ground breaking for the new firehouse for Woodstock Fire Company No. 2. in Wittenberg.

The 1959 and 1960 Kingston, New York city directories listed Keller as a sign painter at 525 Broadway. He advertised in the Kingston Daily Freeman.

July 22, 1960

May 18, 1963

A death notice appeared in the Kingston Daily Freeman, November 29, 1962.
Decker—Nov. 27, 1962, Mrs. Fredericka M. Decker of Wittenberg; wife of Grant Decker; aunt of Mr. and Mrs. Gary Keller.
Keller and his wife had moved to Wittenberg because of the Deckers, who were residents of Woodstock in the 1925 New York state census and 1930 and 1940 U.S. Federal Censuses. Grant Decker’s World War II draft card said he resided in Wittenberg.

The Kingston Daily Freeman, July 7, 1964, said
Mrs. Helen Keller was honored with a surprise party on June 29 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald C. Latz Sr. of Bayard Street. Those attending were Mr. and Mrs. Edward Mains, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Dauner and son Gene, Mrs. Genevive Tinnie, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald C. Latz Sr., William Bovee, Susan Latz, Rhonda Latz and Skip Latz, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Keller. Music was furnished by the Musical Wizards, Ronald Latz Sr., Gene Dauner and Gary Keller.
The Kingston Daily Freeman, October 29, 1965, said
Mr. and Mrs. Gary Keller of Schryver Street, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on Oct. 26. A surprise party was given at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Campbell of Port Ewen. Many congratulatory messages and gifts were received from friends and relatives.
According to the Connecticut Death Index Keller’s second wife, Helen, passed away on July 7, 1982 in Waterbury. The death certificate included Keller’s name and street address, 179 Schryver. Keller’s first wife, Lillian, passed away in September 1994.

Keller passed away on February 14, 1988. The Social Security Death Index said his last residence was Port Ewen, New York.

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(Next post on Monday: The 1930 Gopher Yearbook)

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