Hey, Paisanos! Captain Lou Albano wore many different hats over the years. He was a professional wrestler, a legendary manager, Cyndi Lauper’s father (who owned a gas station that gave away free cookies with every refill as a money-making scheme whilst plotting a way to get his hands on his pirate ancestors’ gold all the while questioning when his daughter was going to live her life right!), and many things which you can read Lou himself talk about on this very site! But for many of a particular generation, Captain Lou first entered their consciousness as the first live-action Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!
And to think, it almost didn’t happen due to his facial hair…
Captain Lou Albano and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!
After a year of trying to convince Nintendo to license their characters, Andy Heyward, the then CEO of Dic entertainment, had a plan for the iconic Italian plumber.
As he reportedly told USA Today, "The Mario Bros. is such a unique property we had to do it in a different way. We wanted to do a cartoon but also do a show that extended beyond the cartoon."
When they finally received the Big N’s blessing for The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Dic commenced production on the show, a cartoon series of both Super Mario Bros. and The Legend Of Zelda, bookended by live-action segments.
All they needed now was their title character, not only someone who had the vocal capabilities to voice Mario, but also the look and charisma to pull off the role in live-action! Reflecting on an interview found on the show’s DVD special features, Albano was slightly trepidatious at first.
"They approached me for the part, and I thought it was an opportunity," Albano recounted. "At first, I didn’t want to do it. I’m in the wrestling, forget about that. But then my wife talked to me and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s take a shot at it.’"
Another reason why Albano may have been slightly hesitant about taking on this role in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! was the fact he would have to make some big physical changes to perform the part, mainly getting rid of his famous facial hair!
"I didn’t want to shave it off. I was used to wrestling with a rubber band in my beard, this and that. The guy looked at me and said, ‘You can’t go with that.’ I said, ‘I don’t wanna know that!’"
Eventually, Albano would come around, and he would shave off his famous goatee, as well as announcing his new role, live on an episode of Regis and Kathy Lee.
"Regis Philbin I knew for years. He’s a friend, they put me on the show, and they asked me to do it. I said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’"
Of course, Mario would need a Luigi, and Dic cast actor Danny Wells to fill the green overalls.
"Danny Wells came along, who was in many shows. Danny was with me; we started reading and went right into it. Danny was very funny and very good in Super Mario, and he’s a great guy."
Mario and Luigi would open each show with "The Mario Rap," an epic rhyme that would put Jay Z to shame, and end it with "Do The Mario." For some of us, these two songs are so imprinted into our minds that, to this day, it’s impossible to play a Mario game with spitting those lines!
As well as our two heroes, the show would also feature celebrity guests. A who’s who of famous faces from the late ’80s and early ’90s, including some old wrestling buddies of Lou’s.
"They went with me and had a conference. They said, ‘This is what we want to do. Would you like to handle Sgt. Slaughter? Would you like to do Magic Johnson?’ I agreed with them and said, ‘Let’s go with it,’ and that was it!"
The Super Mario Bro. Super Show ran for 52 episodes and was loved by children across the world. One of the reasons for its success was the chemistry between the two stars, who would often improvise dialogue in the live-action segments.
"The stuff we did was so off the wall; we just took chances with things. They were ideas that we came up with, and Danny Wells thought of, and they added to it, and we were doing this, and we were doing that, it was great. We ran for three or four years. We did sixty, sixty-five episodes. The show was getting over, bigger and bigger and bigger, and I was very pleased."
Captain Lou Albano was very proud of his role and continued to show up for signings for the show almost two decades later, up until his passing in 2009.
"Mario was a great guy. Like a guy off the street, the big slob that did everything wrong. But he was still Super Mario!"
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