Captain Lou! Captain Lou! Whether he was helping one of his charges cheat their way to victory, winning the U.S. Tag Team Championship, making beautiful music with NRBQ (and music videos with Cyndi Lauper), or starring in Brian DePalma's Wise Guys, Lou Albano knew how to keep himself busy and in the spotlight. He was bigger than life, literally and metaphorically, making an impact wherever he stepped.
Born Louis Vincent Albano, the man who would become famous in and outside of the squared circle did it all. He was a champion wrestler, a manager of champions, and a pop culture icon, appearing in music videos, TV shows, and film. Mr. Albano contributed so many things to wrestling that it's difficult to sum up all of his accomplishments. Arguably his biggest was his buildup to War to Settle the Score, the famous matchup which led to Wrestlemania and the WWF's rise to prominence but then again, with a resume as long as the Captain's, it's not easy to be certain.
Like many managers, Mr. Albano began his career in the ring as a wrestler. In his case, he rose to prominence as one half of the heel tag team called the Sicilians (alongside partner Tony Altimore). The Sicilians would become well known during the 1950's and 1960's, working throughout various territories including the WWWF and capturing the U.S. Tag Team Championship from Spiros Arion and Arnold Skaaland in 1967.
For most fans however, Captain Lou was best remembered for his work as a manager in the WWWF . As Paul Heyman mentioned in his blog this week, one of the Three Wise Men of the East, the legendary triumvirate of terror that ran wild over the babyfaces in the WWWF (the other two of course, being the Grand Wizard and "Classy" Freddie Blassie). Captain Lou would become known as "The Guiding Light" (one of the many names he bestowed upon himself), leading a record fifteen tag teams to championship gold in the WWWF. When Captain Lou managed a tag team, it was always a question of when,not if, his team would win the coveted WWWF Tag Team Championship. The teams he guided were a veritable who's who in the WWWF including the Wild Samoans, a team he led to a record three WWWF tag team championships.
Mr. Albano was so well known for his tag team accolades that people often forgot the singles championships he helped manage. The biggest of course was Ivan Koloff, who toppled Bruno Sammartino in 1971 to win the WWWF championship. The Intercontinental championship did not elude his grasp either with Mr. Albano helping both The Magnificent Muraco and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine win that prestigious belt.
Fans always have their choice of who the greatest manager of all time was. One thing everyone can agree on is that they broke the mold when they made Captain Lou. Captain Lou Albano was much more than a manager, he was a force of nature. It's hard to think of someone more despicable than Captain Lou. When the big, ugly man worked his way to the ring, you couldn't help but hate him. Captain Lou presented a look that was all his own. Whether it was the long rubber bands that dangled from his face, the wild hair and equally untamed beard, or his trademark shirt with generous belly protruding from underneath, Lou Albano looked the part of a slimy, no-good bad guy who would run over his grandmother if she stood in his way. One look at Albano and you knew what a character he was. You never forgot him. Even people who'd only seen him once would remember him as "the fat guy with rubber bands hanging down his face" or "that ugly obnoxious wrestling manager who never shut up."
Lou Albano was no cartoon character bad guy (although he would go on to become a cartoon character in Hulk Hogan's Rock and Wrestling and play a real-life version of a cartoon character in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!). He was the real deal. He reminded you of the loud, brash guy at the seedy side of town, hustling numbers or beating people up for failing to pay their debts. Lou Albano was the brains behind the brawn, the guy who guided monsters like the Wild Samoans and the Moondogs to the WWWF Tag Team Championship. He was also the guy who always looked out for number one-he defrauded Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka out of all his earnings then choreographed a brutal beatdown on Snuka when his nefarious activities were brought to life. Captain Lou Albano was one bad customer.
He was also a rarity among managers-someone who you actually thought might do a number on a babyface. Granted, Albano cultivated his image as a slob and you knew your favorite wrestler would come out on top in a fair fight against Albano. The problem was that you also knew Albano never fought a fair fight in his life. Albano presented a true sense of danger to babyfaces, luring them into a false sense of security then striking when they were at their weakest.
Like Shakespeare's loveable rogue John Falstaff, Albano also had an undeniable charm. As bad a guy as you knew he was, you couldn't help but laugh at some of his promos. The guy never stopped talking. Whether he boasted of being "often imitated but never duplicated" or any of the thousands of catchphrases he dropped, the not-so-good Captain was never at a loss for words. His sometimes comical antics served a secondary purpose-they lured the babyfaces and their fans into underestimating Albano until he sprang one of his diabolical plans on them. It was pure wrestling gold.
Although I was only able to catch Albano during the tail end of his heel years in the WWF, he made a lasting impression. One of the bits that illustrated Albano's craziness occurred during match between Albano charge "The Magnificent Muraco" and perennial loser Rudy Diamond. During the match, Albano paraded around the ring with a meatball bomber and cup of Coca Cola. It didn't take long for everyone to realize Diamond posed no threat to Muraco. Muraco was destroying the jobber but Albano was determined to add insult to injury. During the match, Albano walked up to the ring and gave Muraco a bite of his sub. If that wasn't bad enough, Albano then gave Muraco some of his Coca Cola to drink. The humiliation of losing to Muraco was compounded by Muraco getting a quick snack in and the sheer disgust at seeing someone sharing part of Lou Albano's lunch.
Hollywood has always been drawn to the charismatic personalities found in professional wrestling. That's why it's no surprise that Captain Lou was "discovered" by Hollywood. In the Captain's case, he would soon be found in the music videos of up and coming singer Cyndi Lauper, playing Ms. Lauper's father in her video Girls Just Want to Have Fun. The song was a smash success, aided by the video (and Albano's presence), and propelled Lauper to pop stardom.
In true form, Albano seemed to ride Lauper's coattails to the top. This would lead to one of the biggest angles of the 1980's and lead the way for the WWF's rise to the top as well. For weeks, Albano basked in the fame he'd earned by appearing in Lauper's video, boasting to fellow heel "Rowdy" Roddy Piper that he would produce Lauper for Piper's talk segment "Piper's Pit". After many weeks of speculation, Lauper appeared and that's when the fireworks started. Lauper and Albano clashed after Albano claimed to be the reason for Lauper's success, then added to his problems by making chauvinistic comments towards Lauper. In the end, the two decided to settle their differences by managing a wrestler against one another. The result was "The Brawl to Settle It All", a woman's title match between Albano's proxy, the Fabulous Moolah (then WWF Woman's Champion) and Lauper's proxy, Wendi Richter. The match main evented Madison Square Garden and scored record ratings for MTV when it was aired. When the dust had settled, Lauper's wrestler was victorious and Captain Lou had egg on his face.
Albano's defeat saw a slow but noticeable change in the manager's heart. Like the Grinch, his heart began to grow and he soon found himself helping Lauper in charity fund-raisers to fight Multiple Sclerosis. The two received an award for their efforts in Madison Square Garden and like most wrestling awards ceremonies, this one was ruined. This time, by Roddy Piper who cracked an award over Albano's head and laid out Lauper and her entourage. This angle would lead to "The War to Settle the Score", the famous buildup to the first ever Wrestlemania.
From there, Captain Lou began working on the side of the angels, guiding babyface teams like the U.S. Express (Barry Windham & Mike Rotunda) and the British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid) to the WWF Tag Team Championship. The now good captain also found himself in demand in Hollywood, guest starring on hit TV shows of the time such as Miami Vice and 227 as well as starring in Brian De Palma's film Wiseguys. Although Hollywood was now taking up most of his time, Captain Lou returned to wrestling from time to time. In 1994, Captain Lou added another tag team championship to his trophy case when he guided the Headshrinkers to a WWF Tag Team Title win.
As always, the hits kept coming for Captain Lou. In 1989, he starred as iconic video game character Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and in 1996, he was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame. Two years later he would co-author the book The Complete Idiots Guide to Professional-Wrestling. 2008 would see the release of the Captain's autobiography Often Imitated, Never Duplicated.
Mike Rickard II is the author of Wrestling's Greatest Moments (published by ECW Press), a look back at the greatest matches, angles, and feuds of the last thirty years. The book is now availble for pre-order through amazon.com