by Robert Smith
There’s been much written during the past two days concerning one Louis Albano, the famous pro wrestling manager from Carmel, New York who died on Wednesday. Most of the bios have detailed Albano’s upbeat stint with Cyndi Lauper in the “Rock ’N Wrestling Connection” of the then-WWF in the mid-1980s, or the fact he later went on to acting roles in films and children’s TV shows. That was “Captain” Lou.
That’s not the Lou Albano I knew, and certainly not the way he acted for the bulk of his career in the ring. What made Albano so special is that he portrayed one of the most disgusting examples of human perversity ever displayed in anything other than the Saw film series. Albano, a former mid-card wrestler who was outstanding at stream of consciousness rambling, became a manager during the 1970s, easily the pseudo-sport’s most outrageous period. A mantra among promoters of that era was “red turns to green,” which was their way of noting that bloody and violent matches drew the most fans. It was an era where major stars were violent grapplers such as The Sheik, Fred Blassie, Abdullah The Butcher, Brute Bernard, Moondog Mayne, and other psychotic-acting wrestlers who didn’t talk as much as drool or howl. Albano, in his way, was as bad or worse than the men who would throw fire, bite their opponents, or stab them with forks.
Albano in his managerial prime was everything you didn’t want your child to grow up to be. He’d babble incoherently at times, eyes rolling about like a psycho; at other moments, he’d spout outrageous lies about either his men’s opponents or the events that happened during a match in rapid-fire style, 1,000 words a second, spitting and sputtering and shouting down whoever was holding a microphone in his direction. Clearly, early Albano was a role model for the eventual Bill O’Reillys of the broadcast world.
Physically, Albano could make women vomit just by walking in the arena. Consistently about 120 pounds overweight on a 5’8’’ frame, the Italian blabbermouth would wear completely open Hawaiian shirts and sported long, unkempt hair and a dirty-looking beard; he was the closest a human being has ever come to looking like a walking fart. He was a cross between a goomba at The Sopranos’ pork store and a mutant who lived under a bridge. In a world stocked with other foreign object-passing managers such as Eddie Creachman, The Grand Wizard, and Bobby Heenan, Albano was clearly the most revolting of them all.
It gets worse. The stunts Albano pulled in and out of the ring surely wouldn’t be allowed on television today. On the rare occasions when he’d get one of his opponents so angry that they’d demand to wrestle Albano and not his charges, he’d cut himself with a straight razor and bleed profusely, producing more crimson than most wrestlers would or could. The type of wrestlers Albano managed were pure sadists; his 1972 WWWE championship tag team, King Curtis and Baron Mikel Scicluna – both huge men to begin with – jabbed their opponents with long plastic spikes and church key can openers. A year later, he managed the legendary Blassie, who would bite his opponents’ foreheads open with this teeth, which he sharpened on camera during local interviews. “Blassie is filing his teeth to bite into the throat of Gorilla Monsoon,” howled Albano during an Albany, New York-based promo. His screaming during many interviews was a combination of Zero Mostel, Godzilla, and Hannibal Lecter.
Yeah, it gets even worse. Albano, who used to roam around the ring badgering fans during matches at TV tapings, once yelled “Tar baby! Tar baby!” during a match featuring black wrestler S.D. Jones. He once fed one of his Wild Samoans one of his own cigars. In a moment of incredible bad taste, a 1981 gimmick was designed to show how out of control his Moondogs tag team was. Albano struggled to calm his men/dogs Rex and King after a match. Wild eyed, one of the Moondogs grabbed Albano’s arm and began to gnaw it like a bone, and his partner soon wanted some, too. After a few moments, Albano’s arm was a gory, dripping mess as the men chewed at his arm; “outraged” announcer Vince McMahon screamed for the cameras to stop showing the sheer depravity.
Obviously, pro wrestling of the 1970s era was nothing at all like today’s showy, flashy sport in terms of the way it manipulated fans into buying tickets. Wrestling’s somewhat seedy, bloody offerings were designed to get fans so angry at “bad guys” that they’d pack arenas to see men who acted like axe murderers get what was coming to them. The good guy/bad guy scenario worked for five decades in wrestling, but it was during the 1970s that the sheer violence and outrageously sordid actions of wrestling’s villains reached a peak. And Albano, at least in the World Wide Wrestling Federation on the east coast, was the mouthpiece for many of the worst of these bruisers.
Albano was so good at not just being bad, but downright rancid. No one in any genre of entertainment has ever been as believably psycho, so creepily distasteful, so peep show floor gross. You could practically smell his armpits when he was on television. He referred to Australian star Tony Garea as “Tony Gonorrhea,” laughed like a child at a birthday when his men’s battered opponents would be carted out of the ring on stretchers, flailed his legs and arms like Baby Huey in the rare moments when he’d get belted. He’d prattle on about how his opponent “has a brain like a dehydrated BB,” or that “if you put his brain in a parakeet, it would fly backwards.” He was the scum of the earth.
And his type of outlandish, near-racist, human monster of a man will never be seen in wrestling again, especially now that the old WWWF has morphed into something as commercial and calculated as World Wrestling Entertainment.
Blassie was once described as “the worst villain since Hitler.” Albano was his manager. And they were the type of people that kept 12-year-old boys like me awake at night, unable to forget the horror on my TV screen that I’d seen at 11 am on a Sunday morning.
Later in my life, I got to know Albano briefly as I covered Herb Abrams’ UWF in the early 1990s for Pro Wrestling Illustrated, one of the many pulp magazines I’ve worked for. Naturally, upon meeting the man, he was clearly the opposite of what he was as a manager during the 1970s.
But the next time you read a bio of Albano that only focuses on his cuddly late-career image, just remember that isn’t what made him famous.
He was the biggest slob who ever lived, and that made him the best.
Robert Smith was a writer and editor with most of the top newsstand wrestling magazines of the 1980s and 1990s, including Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, WCW Magazine, Wrestling’s Main Event, and numerous other titles. He also was the original TV host of Philadelphia-based Eastern Championship Wrestling, which later became ECW.
© 2009 Robert Smith