I am saddened by the news reporting the death of WWE Hall of Fame manager, Captain Lou Albano. Albano was the last living member of what I like to call the “Big 3″ WWWF/WWF managers. Albano, Freddie Blassie, and the Grand Wizard (who ironically died on October 12, 1983) are just as responsible as Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund were in drawing big houses in the 1970s and early 80s.
Captain Lou was far and away my favorite pro wrestling personality growing up. I loved his crazy promos, the rubber bands in the beard, and the sloppy ring gear. Captain Lou is responsible for two big memories for me as a wrestling fan. First, Captain Lou was one of the first people I laid my eyes on when I watched my pro wrestling show. I came across a MSG promo featuring Lou, Blackjack Mulligan, and the Samoans for a match against the Strongbows and Andre the Giant. I was scared out of my mind watching those maniacs, yet I returned and haven’t left since.
[adinserter block=”1”]The second was the very first live pro wrestling event I attended. I attended a WWF show at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1983. The main-event featured WWF champion Bob Backlund, Andre the Giant, and Superfly Snuka against Big John Studd, the Samoans, and Captain Lou in a handicapped match. The finish of the match saw Superfly Snuka leap off of the top rope and crash on Albano for the pin.
I had the honor of interviewing and meeting Captain Lou back in 2001. To this day, it remains one of my favorite interviews. I found Lou to be revealing, candid, and as always entertaining. I dug into the archives and found the transcript which features Lou talking about becoming a manager, managing some of his greatest wrestlers, the differences between the WWE then as opposed to the WWWF/WWF of his era, Bruno Sammartino, his legendary weekly firings, Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund, Cyndi Lauper and more. Rather than me telling you his story, I present Captain Lou Albano’s story in his own words.
This interview originally aired live on Pro Wrestling Radio on January 26, 2001.
Q: How did you get started in the wrestling business?
Lou Albano: Well, I got started years ago. I just got out of the service, this was around 1952, and Vince McMahon, Sr., Willie Ginzberg sent me down to him and I started wrestling and I wrestled for about 20 years and Bruno Sammartino said to me, “You know you are not a great wrestler, but you’re a good talker, a good bs’er, you never shut up.” So they started me managing in the sixties with Crusher Vadue, Baron Mikel Scicluna, Curtis Iaukea, the Moondogs, and I had the British Bulldogs later on and I had the Valiant Brothers and the Wild Samoans, Andre
for a while, Tarzan Tyler, Luke Graham, I had them all the way up to Superfly Jimmy Snuka and we went through as a manager and Bruno said, “If you become a manager, you will be around for years.
Q: What was your favorite part of your wrestling career?
Lou: Well, I liked when I became a manager. There was a lot of excitement with WrestleMania I. We all got together with Cyndi Lauper, and Muhammad Ali as a referee, Liberace’ as a time keeper, that was in 1984, that was the first WrestleMania. Billy Martin, God rest his soul, Gordie Howe, really an extravaganza and that’s what really started off WrestleMania, which I believe is one of the big events with the WWF and as I said, that was probably one of the highlights, and the rest was being a business that I have loved and done for years. I’d like to see it get back to a little more of the original wrestling where you have a two hour show, with ten minutes of wrestling, and forty-five minutes of hype! Just get back a little more, keep the fingers down, the women dropping their tops, don’t go too far.
Q: Compare working for Vince Sr., Vince, Jr.?
Lou: Well, first of all Vince Sr., me is a legend. When I was hurt years ago, every week I got my paycheck. Years ago, four or five hundred dollars was a lot of money. We did not make the kind of money that the guys were making today, so there is no envy there, in our day that was good money. Every week I had a check. Vince McMahon, Sr. was truly a legend in his own time. Junior, is a business man. Junior and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things. I don’t want to criticize him, he’s not here to answer. As I said, I don’t like some of the things he is doing, however business wise he is a business man, he’s out there, he’s out there calling his daughter a name and his wife is this and is that and he is doing things I am not crazy about. The daughter comes out and says, “You know dad that Mom is very sick?” this and that, he comes out with a blonde with him and he says, “I can’t believe it,” and he’s looking in a mirror. “She’s very sick, I can’t,” all the sudden a big smile on his face (imitating Vince laughing), he said, “All they wanted was my money.” I think they are over doing it. Little kids are watching itand they are imitating what they are seeing and we tell little kids not to do it, I noticed he is putting little disclaimers on Saturday mornings when little kids watch. I guess there have been accidents and people are getting turned off and parents are irritated. You know you have to be careful.
Q: Would you ever see Vince Sr., doing that with his family as a promoter to sell tickets?
Lou: No, Vince (Junior) made a statement at one time, “If my father was alive, he’d turn over in his grave if he knew what I was doing,” I guess that is true. Vince McMahon, Sr., ago had his own territory. We ran from Virginia up to Maine and never went past Pittsburgh. There were territories in the Midwest. Out in California there was Roy Shire and Pat Patterson, in Florida you had Eddie Graham, Eddie Gossett. There were different territories, you went from territory to territory. Vince, Jr. got on national television and went all over the world and I am sure that some people are aggravated. You had Verne Gagne in the Minnesota area and Vince just went out and did what he wanted to do. Of the two if I had to have a choice, I would say I definitely prefer the dad. I am just being honest and I am not knocking Junior or anything. I would pick his father if I had to, I think his father is a legend.
Q: How true are the stories about you getting fired weekly at television?
Lou: Well, I mean there were times at television certain things would go wrong and this and that, and McMahon would get upset, but Vince, Sr. if you got fired, he would have a way about him. Sometimes he’d yell at me, I’d got fired quite a few times. He would come back at me and say, “Captain Lou, get back here and behave yourself, and be careful and don’t be drinking, and don’t be this, and don’t be that.” He had a point. A couple of weeks later he would call me up and say, “Are you going to behave yourself now?” and I would say “Yes, Vince I will.” I would come back again. He would give you a second chance and I do not know if Junior would do that.
Q: What are your memories of working with Jimmy Snuka nd his crazy side in and out of the ring?
Lou: Well, Jimmy I think is seasoned with age. He is not a kid anymore, he’s not that old, I guess he is in his late forties, early fifties, whatever. He is doing independent work and we got back and forth and had that feud on television and went around with Jimmy Snuka and all I would do in my day, I was not a great wrestler, I would go in there and hit you with a gimmick, a piece of wood or something, and he’d come back at me and chase me through the dressing room. As a villain, the people would yell, “You big, fat, son of a gun, stay and fight you coward!” I said, “Once I get beat they are going to be happy and we won’t draw anymore money.” We did that for years, and then finally I became a good guy and I started handling Andre The Giant for a while, and then I had the British Bulldogs, and Jimmy, and Jimmy turned back and forth. Jimmy’s still going around with King Kong Bundy and all of the fellows, and they are making appearances here and there and they are doing independent shows, and they are doing very well.
Q: What were your thoughts watching Jimmy’s famous Superfly leap off the top of the cage during his match with Bob Backlund?
Lou: Well, he was really one of the originators of that. I mean, that was amazing, you are up there ten or twelve feet high and I mean just one bad thing. I wouldn’t go for that to be honest with you. When I wrestled him he wanted to do it and I told him, “No, you can jump on me from the thing, but there is no way.” If he jumped on to me from the top of the thing, I would try and roll out of the ring. I figured, I could barely walk as it is you know?
Q: Memories of working with Andre The Giant?
Lou: Well, Andre was a super human guy. Very difficult in his life because they told him they he would never make it past forty and he made it to forty-six and he kept growing. I think they did something to his pituitary glands to try and stop him. He’d walk down the street and he would call everybody boss and he he’d say, “Look Boss, they are looking at me.” You’d get fifty people turn around, I mean he was 7’4″ and over 500 pounds, they’d be staring at him, and I mean the guy was an amazing athlete, a strong human being, and I don’t think if he wanted to be beaten that he was going to be beaten.
Q: Memories of working with Bob Backlund and his crazy reputation outside of the ring?
Lou: Bob Backlund, I heard is going to run for office up in Connecticut. He mentioned it to me, Bobby was a great amateur wrestler, of course he was a little off the wall, like you said, that’s part of the showmanship in wrestling. Bob is a pretty smart individual and he would probably make a good State Senator or something like that.
Q: Memories of managing and working with Don Muraco?
Lou: Well, Don Muraco I hear is out on the Island now renting out boats. Don was a great athlete, and I also had Mr. Fuji by the way. Fuji and Saito. Saito was an Olympic champion, Silver Medalist for his country. As I said, Don Muraco was a very good wrestler, a big man, I guess he weighed about 260, 270, about 6’4″ or 6’5″, he was very good.
Q: Was there any behind the scenes tension between you and Roddy for the top heel spot?
Lou: No, when we did the Cyndi Lauper video he called me out and I called her a little broad, I was a heel and she whacked me, hit me over the head with her pocketbook, I didn’t realize that she had a bottle of perfume in there, she almost killed me and then Roddy and I got into a little deal, this was later on. Roddy would go back and forth. Roddy was a very good manager, he’s an actor now, I believe he has done about thirty movies, and God bless him, he is a young fellow, Roddy is definitely a unique personality.
Q: What were your thoughts when Hulk Hogan returned and the new era of the WWF began?
Lou: Actually, the Samoans told me about Hulk Hogan originally, because we had Andre, and we wanted a big man to go against Andre. Hogan’s name was Terry Bollea and was a bass guitar player out of Florida, and they were looking to bring someone in and Terry came in and he went around with Andre and he got a little aggravated and he left and went out to Verne Gagne. He did that movie and he was Thunder Lips in Rocky III, and after that his career just bloomed, and he went down with (Ted) Turner, and he has a career with him, and back and forth, and he’s definitely been a money maker and an icon in the business of wrestling. When you talk about the older timers you have the, Bruno Sammartinos, the Killer Kowalskis, Agrentina Rocca, I mean you talk about these guys were truly legends.
Q: Did you and some of the older veterans see the changes coming?
Lou: Well, I kind of noticed it because he was at WrestleMania I and you could kind of see that they were leaning a little more towards showmanship than they were in the older days, and when Hollywood Hulk Hogan, with the blonde hair. As I said, these are the world’s greatest athletes. That I will admit to, however you are not betting on wrestling, it is sports-entertainment, which the promoters themselves will tell you, and as I said Hogan coming was definitely something new, and from there it just kept growing.
Q: How did the whole Cyndi Lauper angle get put together?
Lou: Cyndi met me on a plane coming in from Puerto Rico. I think Danny Devito mentioned me to her and she asked me if she should come to the Garden. She came to Madison Square Garden and they had the Star and the National Enquirer there. I was a heel then, so I winked at her. I said, “Cyndi Lauper, you are a nice little broad.” She said, “What?” I said, “You are a nice little broad, you are like other women, good for making babies and cleaning house.” Well, the women’s lib, I went on Letterman, they picketed me, they kept booing me, I said, “They aren’t booing me, they are yelling Lou, Lou, Lou! The body women love and men envy.” Meanwhile, I am 350 pounds, my belly sticking out, now I am down to about 210, at that time she said, “I will pick a girl wrestler to wrestle your girl!” She picked Wendy Richter, a young good looking athlete. I had Fabulous Moolah, who I am not knocking but Moolah was almost my age and maybe more. We got beaten and I apologized and said, “Women are at least as good as men and if not in most cases better.” So that made me straight again, and I went back to handling the babyfaces.
Q: Memories of working with the Dynamite Kid?
Lou: Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy were excellent athletes. Dynamite has been off for a while and Davey Boy had been back and forth, their brother-in-law is Jimmy Neidhart and they were related to the Hart family. I would say fine, super athletes like so many guys. Bobby Backlund again, was a great amateur athlete and in our sport we had, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, National AAU Champion, Danny Hodge, Olympic champ years ago. So, these are the world’s best athletes with the showmanship.
I mention that Ozzy Osbourne was with him at WrestleMania 2.
Lou: Yeah, we did and we had Donny Wallberg from the New Kids On The Block, oh we had so many throughout the years. Later on, Chuck Norris had come in, Burt Reynolds was on some of the WrestleMania’s, and all the way through until the present. You had Arnold involved, in fact Arnold was on one of them and I said, “Arnold Schwarzennager, big deal. You got a 54″ chest, I got a 54″ waist. Look at those lumps all over, you look terrible. Who trained you?” He said, “You did Captain, you are my trainer, my mentor.”
Q: Have you gotten any negativity from your ex-fellow wrestlers for exposing some of the facts you did in your books?
[adinserter block=”2″]Lou: No, because most of the fans already knew that Terry Bollea is Hulk Hogan, and they knew all of the different names, and Arnie Skaaland knew that he used to be called Bobby Weaver. They basically knew the names, look at years ago right after World War II, Willie Gilzenberg tells Hans Schmidt to walk into the ring dressed as a Jewish boy with a little cap on. He goes into Madison Square Garden, the old Garden on 49th street and Willie told him to click his heels together and make a nazi chant. So Willie clicked his heels together and did the chant, and he goes to come out of the elevator and one of the people that sold jewels has a gun on him and says, “You dirty Nazi son of a gun, I ought to blow you away!” He goes, “Please, please I am not German!” He went back to Willie and said, “You click your heels together, the heck with the gimmick, I don’t want to get killed!” A lot of the people knew the boys names anyway, so what are they going to say? I have never disgraced the business, I have never said anything bad about it, I was proud to be in it
Q: How different was the WWF during your last run managing the Headshrinkers?
Lou: One of them is the big guy now with the big rear end. Rikishi. Forget about it, he must have gained about 300 pounds since I had him. It started and I had them, and of course at first I had Afa and Sika. Those guys, Rikishi and them are the nephews of Afa and Sika. Samu is Afa’s son. Rikishi is Sika’s son. In fact, the big guy Rodney Anoia. He was not Japanese, he was Samoan. I believe we have lost Rodney. The poor guy, I felt sorry for him, he got so big, and of course the strain on his heart. My Headshrinkers were good guys you know, and then from there handled Snuka again, it was great. I enjoyed more being a babyface. The villain was great, but they were cutting my tires and throwing rocks at me, so I said, “Hey, these people are taking everything to heart!”
Q: Were you ever approached in the last 20 years by the competition?
Lou: Yes, I had been approached several times by the competition. In fact, I took a premature release in my contract with McMahon. I was doing a movie and for some reason he said, “You are a wrestler, not an actor.” I said, “I am going to do the movie, I already made a commitment.” I think it was Bodyslam, we had a little falling out and I said, “I want a release.” He said, “I will give you a premature release, providing I did not go down to the WCW for a year.” That was a few years ago, if I wanted to go now I could, but as I said at my age with the traveling, I would not even consider it.
Q: What is your current relationship like with Vince McMahon, Jr.?
Lou: Personally, nothing close. I met him on a couple of talk shows, I gave my opinion, I didn’t bury anybody, I just gave what I thought. I wasn’t crazy about what is going on today. As I said, he put my doll out, I made money with the doll. In fact, they sold out and are no longer around. I can’t really say anything, I wouldn’t want to go back. Again, I would say his father was the greatest and not knocking Vince, it’s not my cup of tea.
Q: Who was the greatest you ever saw or worked with?
Lou: One of the greats, not his great wrestling ability, but the charisma he had with the people was Bruno Sammartino. Argentina Rocca was magnificent. He just put his feet up in the air and he was a great athlete, and Bruno was a big powerhouse. In 1959, without steroids which he hated, he bench pressed 565 pounds and did 38 consecutive reps with 330 pounds. At that time, it was unheard of. Bruno was definitely a legend. Then there was the Killer Kowalskis. There were so many great wrestlers. If you want to get into amateur styles, you have people like Steve Williams and Danny Hodge. It is hard to pick out one single one.
Listen to the interview by clicking here.
Check out Captain Lou’s book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pro Wrestling (2nd Edition) by clicking here.
Check out Captain Lou’s autobiography, The Wit and Wisdom of Lou Albano by clicking here.
See the Captain at his best on the WWE Presents The World’s Greatest Wrestling Managers DVD by clicking here.