If you grew up in the old WWWF territory, the late-great Lou Albano was one of the Three Wise Men of the East along with Fred Blassie and The Grand Wizard of Wrestling, immortal heel managers who are forever etched in our childhood memories. The mega-heat Lou generated at Madison Square Garden was almost beyond description. When a Bruno or Chief Jay Strongbow clocked him and he floundered like a fish out of water on the canvas, the 22,000-strong roared, the building shook, and for that moment, good had triumphed over evil and all was good in the world.
And, of course, as I chronicled previously here at Pro Wrestling Stories, in the mid 80’s he helped to bring in the Rock and Wrestling Connection with Cyndi Lauper.
On February 15, 1991, I was honored to interview one of my wrestling heroes in Lou Albano backstage at Herb Abrams ill-fated Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) TV tapings at the Pental Hotel in NYC. The talent-laden but money-losing promotion ran from 1990 until Abrams’ death in 1996.
In this stream of consciousness interview, originally published in my Wrestling- Then & Now sheet, I managed to squeeze in a few questions while “the guiding light,” “the manager of champions,” “the Captain” regaled me with his thoughts on everything from politics to religion, to his film and charity work, and of course, pro wrestling.
These excerpts are his thoughts on his wild and wildly successful wrestling career and the acting fame that stemmed from it. This is the first time this interview is available in digital form.
Lou Albano On Wrestling, Managing, and Acting:
“I started in the business in 1953. I wrestled singly and then I teamed up with Tony Altimore and we wrestled for some 13 years together as a tag team. I got to work with and enjoyed watching some of the all-time greats.
Years ago, in one of my earlier matches, I was up in the Forum in 1953 with Killer Kowalski. When he walked into the ring against Édouard Carpentier, I’ll be honest with you, I was in awe. I was elated. I’d never wrestled before in front of 17-18,000. And to look at Kowalski who at the time-weighted 290- that was a legend.
Then I’ve got to say Argentina Rocca was one of the greats of all-time. I watched him, and he was very, very talented with his feet and so forth.
I met Gorgeous George years after his prime, but he was right up there with Tarzan Tyler in the old days, another good friend that I managed. I managed Tarzan Tyler and Luke Graham.
Bruno Sammartino without a doubt is one of the legends of wrestling who made wrestling what is it today.
And I have to say I admire more of the old-time wrestlers. The tag-teams of The Tolos Brothers and The Valiants. Years ago, we were the Sicilians. Tony was a very funny guy and a talented individual. Right now, he’s up in Connecticut. He’s a part-owner of a taxi business. He’s also doing the coordinating for a movie called Calhoun County down in Atlanta helping them with the stunt work. He’s a good guy. He was always 4-5 years older than me. I admit to 58-59. All of a sudden Tony’s 5 to 6 years younger than me! But hey, he’s been a friend for some 35 or 38 years along with a lot of these fellows like John Tolos and Bruno Sammartino.
I believe you should respect other wrestlers. You should realize that they’re in there to make money just like you are, but let’s get back to the old days with a little more actual wrestling rather than all the Mickey Mouse stuff going on. There were so many greats out there that I admire more than the wrestlers of today.
My first managing job was in 1969 when I handled Crusher Verdue and that was the first sellout in the new Madison Square Garden which they’re working now- against Bruno Sammartino who I consider one of the living legends of all-time. I’ve had 17 tag team champions- the Valiants were 2-time world champions; the Samoans were 3-time world champions; The Lumberjacks, The Blackjacks; Fuji and Saito; the British Bulldogs among others. I managed Andre the Giant, and a fellow named Don Muraco. 17 tag champs. 2 Inter-Continental and 1 world champion, Ivan Koloff. Originally when Ivan Koloff started out, his name was Red McNulty. We brought him down from Canada. He weighed 285-290 in those days. He slimmed down…he’s a great conditioned guy. I think Ivan would have made it in any era. Just like the Tolos Brothers. They didn’t need the mass. They didn’t need the 290 pounds. They were quick. Six feet two or three, whatever John is. Chris is in great shape today. Chris could probably go in and beat half these guys.
Some 4 years ago, I read for a movie by Brian Depalma, Wise Guys, with Joe Piscopo and Danny DeVito. I played Frankie the Fixer so I gave my notice to the WWF and concentrated more on acting. I’ve got a picture called Complex World coming out and I also did a movie called Body Slam with Tanya Roberts and Dirk Benedict. I played a character called Captain Lou Milano. In the meantime, I’ve done a few shows and they called me up to do a show called Super Mario Brothers and I played Mario for a year with a fellow named Danny Wells, the bartender from the Jeffersons- I had the beard shaved and a big handlebar mustache. I also have a magazine with Bill Apter- Captain Lou Albano’s Wrestling Classic. We try to bring back the old-time wrestling such as the legend Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz and so on and so forth. I feel that wrestling in the old days also had a lot of showmanship, but basically, there was more wrestling involved. Today you have the monkeys and birds and parakeets and snakes and it’s a complete show and kind of a farce. They’re still great athletes, however. I will admit that professional wrestlers are to me the finest athletes in the world.”
Lou Albano was anti-drug and steroids and was vocal in his condemnation of both.
On Steroids in Wrestling:
“Bruno Sammartino bench pressed in 1959 565 pounds steroid free. I know this for a fact. I know Bruno. And he did 38 consecutive reps with 330 pounds. People like Jack LaLanne; a lot of people never took steroids. They work out clean. Don’t need it. In my day standing 5’10- I’m out of shape now- but when I was in shape weighing 230, 220, I was a good-sized guy. Today the men are bigger and stronger I guess, like track people. They talk a lot today about steroids- that a lot of them are on steroids. I know that in my day very few people knew about steroids. Billy Graham himself came out on television and said how it messed up his life. It’s known to make people sterile, cause cancer, hurt the kidneys and liver. So, I don’t believe in steroids. I don’t believe in drugs. I do have a beer or two on occasion. I’m not a saint. I don’t drink and drive. I tell kids I’m the national chairman of Multiple Sclerosis- the ugly bartender contest sponsored by Coors, Miller & Bud. However, while the beer companies are very supportive of our cause, I don’t want to go out and tell the youngsters to go out and drink. I tell them to be careful; if you go out and have a beer or two make sure you’re of age and don’t get in a car with someone who drinks and drives. I tell the kids if you have a drug problem, don’t be afraid to own up to it. Don’t be afraid to tell your mommy, your daddy, your priest, your rabbi, your minister. Stand up and say, “No!” If you do drugs you go to hell before you die and that’s from Captain Lou!”
Lou Albano spoke of the then young Universal Wrestling Federation and his hopes for the fledgling organization.
On the UWF:
“Now I feel today that this fellow who’s walking in right now, Herb Abrams, is going out of his way to elevate wrestling and bring it back to the days of professional wrestling; he doesn’t worry about monkeys, birds, parakeets, snakes all that stuff…he worries about downright wrestling. You got people like Dr. Death Steve Williams, Paul Orndorff, B. Brian Blair, David Sammartino, Cactus Jack. I mean they are great, great talents. Then you got John Tolos. I’ve got to say that John Tolos is a great showman and was a great wrestler…a very good talker, a very good manager. Captain Lou came into Universal Wrestling with the Captain’s Corner. I interview different wrestlers on my pit. I feel good about the UWF.”
And I couldn’t do an interview with someone as uproariously funny as Lou Albano without getting a few road stories and ribs.
“We’ve been all around the country and I can tell you one little story. We had a guy named Ripper Leone and this guy was a great kibitzer and a joker. He got up in Canada and he’s in a diner and this one fellow had a little too much to drink. He started arguing with the Ripper, so Leone said, “Get outside kid, I’m gonna punch you in the nose.”
“You can’t talk like that to me!” the guy said.
They get outside and Leone said, “Take your coat off! Take your shirt off!” He had the guy stripped to the waist in mid-winter. He was ten feet away from the guy and shadow boxing him. The guy was throwing punches- not even touching him. Finally, he said, “Look…we shouldn’t do this. Let’s go back inside and have a cup of coffee.”
They go back inside. He buys the guy coffee. Suddenly, he says, “You cheap son of a gun, you let me pay for the coffee!” They go back outside and start arguing all over again.
Two weeks later we go back up there, and we said, “Whatever happened to that guy that keep going outside to fight?”
They told us, “The poor guy caught Pneumonia from taking his shirt off!”
There were stories like that.
Years ago, I drove with my partner Tony Altimore in the old-fashioned cars where you set the timer. I said, “I’ll drive a hundred miles and you sleep. Then you drive a hundred miles and reverse it. I drove my hundred miles and was kind of tired; got over to the side and let him drive. Seemed like 2 miles went by. The clock was turned, you know? He said the 100 miles is up, because you could turn the clock forward or back in those days. I looked and jeez, son of a gun I said, “It seemed like only 5 minutes I was sleeping!”
He said, “Nah, the 100 miles is up!”
He had changed the clock while I was sleeping! Then I got back in, drove another 100 miles. We were going to Chicago and I’m half shot- the old days. Money was tight. We were trying to save. I said, “O.K. Tony, your turn.” This time I just didn’t happen to doze off and I could see him fiddling with the clock!
He said, “Well, wake up! Your turn!”
Little ribs like that…we had funny guys who liked to tease. The midgets, they loved to sneak under the table and spray your shoes with gold paint. Every once in a while, they’d light a firecracker under your shoe and scare you…we had a lot of ribbers in the business.”
In later years as an agent, I traveled the country with Lou on many occasions and was proud to get to know him as a kind, gentle, charitable and oh so colorful individual. When he passed on October 14, 2009, at age 76, it was a loss still felt in the wrestling world that loved him dearly.