Captain Lou Albano: The Man, The Myth, The Mario
Louis Albano was born July 29, 1933 in Carmel, New York. During high school, he played lineman for the football team, and upon graduation he began attending the University of Tennessee on a scholarship. However, the Korean War was in its developing stages, and soon Albano was off to join the Army. While serving, he met Arnold Skaaland, a booking agent for the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Soon, Albano was whisked away to a training post in White Plains, New York, and then to Montreal, where he had his first professional match. For the first years, Albano primarily served as a fall guy - an anonymous wrestler the fan faves could beat up on.
Lou got his first taste of winning wrestling as a member of a tag team group known as "The Sicilians," with Tony Altimore. They had a great schtick - Mafia hoods who wrestled on the side - and were so effective in their roles that allegedly they were once visited by some real mobsters who told them to tone the act down. The Sicilians were great actors, but they were also pretty good wrestlers, too, capturing the Midwest Tag Team title in 1961. Six years later, they had captured the United States Tag Team title. Then, Albano met a man who would change his life forever.
Bob Backlund, one of the head honchos of the WWWF, saw Albano's spunk and invited him to recast himself as a "bad guy" manager. Albano agreed, and quickly reformed himself as an over-the-top seedy, crooked, and sneering manager. He set his sights on one man - current WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino. For the next ten years, Albano brought contender after contender to face Bruno, a fan favorite, and each time Bruno would escape from the jaws of defeat to retain his title. Lou had all kinds of tricks for the champion - blinding him with rosin, pulling his legs out from under him midfight, and once by biting his hand while he was in a chokehold. All in good fun, of course, but certainly it made for good headlines in the fledgling federation. Finally, Albano's dubious efforts were rewarded when the Russian Ivan Koloff defeated Sammartino and claimed the championship belt. Captain Lou also managed Pat Patterson and Greg Valentine to the inter-Continental title on two separate occasions.
Albano's success in the one-on-one bouts notwithstanding, he became the premiere manager in the tag team circuit, leading a cavalcade of WWF legends to the title, including the Wild Samoans, British Bulldogs, and The Valiant Brothers. With his bombastic energy, vicious wit, and fantastic mastiff snarl, Captain Lou was an absolute delight to behold for the fans, who reviled in his every move. With him, the WWF continued to expand, and finally took a bold move by promoting a spectacular televised event - Wrestlemania. Featuring some of its biggest stars, Wrestlemania I was augmented by the hyper Lou Albano, constantly prancing about the main ring and serving as the very brash and egotistical attitude the federation wanted to convey. Confident to the fullest (some might say cocky), Albano was simply a juggernaut during the entire event, and helped seal the WWF's future in American pop culture. The most important part of the event was his fight with Cyndi Lauper and Wendi Richter, virtually creating the connection between rock and wrestling that is still highlighted today. (Remember Ozzy Osbourne and Albano barking madly at the British Bulldogs before their Wrestlemania II match with the Dream Team? Priceless.)
By this time, of course, Albano had turned into somewhat of an elder statesman for the WWF. He appeared in Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" video as her loving but overprotective father (reprising his role for her ode to onanism, "She Bop"). He began parlaying himself as the nice guy, managing the lovable WWF heroes of the 80s heyday, including Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. In 1986, Albano took his first step into the movie business, making an appearance as Frankie "The Fixer" in the Brian dePalma gangster spoof Wiseguys. He also helped the folk quartet NRBQ write some songs for an album on Rounder Records called, appropriately enough, NRBQ and Captain Lou, including their short-lived cult hit "Captain Lou". He made a brief cameo in Body Slam, and then his big break came, a move that will forever endear him in the hearts of children of the 80s: He got a job as a plumber.
Swing your arms from side to side.
Come on, it's time to go.
Do the Mario!
When Lou was hired to play the lovable Nintendo staple Mario for the "Super Mario Brothers Show" on FOX (via syndication) in 1989, he was already past his wrestling prime. Still, he thought the idea was a good one, and agreed to it. But there was a catch: for the part, he would have to shave his famous gray goatee and beard. So, one day in March of 1989, Albano appeared on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, who both assisted in removing the no longer needed hair.
In the role of live-action Mario, Lou introduced the cartoon segments of the show and dealt with his brother Luigi in their day-to-day adventures of losing something around their cramped New York City apartment. They had regular guests, including a pre-HIV Magic Johnson, and Lou was a particular treat, making his angry wrestling face at Luigi, only to have it melt into a Cheshire cat smile while he lovingly told his brother to ANSWER THE PIZZAPHONE! The show was short-lived, only lasting three seasons, but it gave me enough Nintendo Power tips to last me a lifetime (but never the trick about level -1. Hmm.)
Albano continued to make guest appearances on television and in movies, generally as a caricature of his real-life role as wrestling manager and showman. He was featured in, among others, the John Ritter/Pam Dawber stink-a-thon Stay Tuned, the lovable Nickelodeon sitcom "Hey Dude!", and once as a celebrity henchman on "Miami Vice." He also continued to appear on WWF televised events in one form or another, but usually as a guest commentator. He took up vegetarianism in 1990, and lost over 150 pounds as a result of his new diet. Although he only slightly resembles the hefty physique of his wrestling days, he is still Captain Lou Albano in full form and personality. He makes several circuit autographing tours a year, so be sure to catch an American icon when he comes to your town!