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October 21, 2009

Bruno Sammartino’s thoughts on Capt. Lou Albano

I spoke recently with pro wrestling great Bruno Sammartino about legendary manager Capt. Lou Albano, who died last week at 76. Sammartino and Albano were portrayed as bitter rivals for years in the WWWF, but behind the scenes, Sammartino played an instrumental role in Albano making the transition from journeyman wrestler to top-level manager.

What is your opinion of Lou as a manager?

As a manager, I don’t know anybody who could argue the fact that he was the best. And I say that sincerely; he was absolutely the best. I was the one responsible for him becoming a manager. As a wrestler, he was mediocre. Lou was not the best by any means and he wasn’t making much of an impact. He was just a regular preliminary guy on the card. Later, he and Tony Altimore became The Sicilians. I’m not going to tell you they became the hottest tag team in the world, because they did not, but they made a bit of an impact with the Mafia-style outfits that they wore. They got some main events, not in a major arena like Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden or Baltimore Civic Center, but in what we called the secondary clubs. They were just at a certain plateau and that was it. But I took notice of Lou every time he had a chance to do an interview – he was more the spokesperson rather than Tony Altimore. The Sicilians eventually had to break up because somebody didn’t think it them being The Sicilians was too funny, and they got a threatening little message [laughs], and it was decided they better quit that.

Every Thursday we had live TV out of Washington, D.C., and Vince McMahon Sr. had an office there in Washington. He would take me sometimes in a private room and ask me what I though about certain talents who wanted to come in. At one of those meetings I said, “Vince, you have to take Albano and try to make him a manager. As a wrestler he ain’t going nowhere, especially now that The Sicilians are over with. He’s just going to be a preliminary guy barely making a living. As a manager, this guy is such a terrific mouthpiece that he can really help make some wrestlers who couldn’t make it on their own really rise .” By that, I mean that they may have been very talented in the ring, but they were duds on the microphone – and the microphone plays a big role in getting you over. Vince thought about it and said, “What have we got to lose? Let’s give him a try.” With that, they put him with a guy named Crusher Verdu, a Spaniard who didn’t speak very good English. If you put a microphone in front of him, forget about it, he just couldn’t talk. Lou was his mouthpiece, and he could be so obnoxious that he not only could get you mad at him, but whoever he was managing. In that respect, he helped a lot of guys get to the top. He was the best at it. He was so hated by the audiences that he would sell out arenas – I wrestled him at The Boston Garden and the Civic Center there in Baltimore – because people wanted to see him get the heck beat out of him. He had that ability to really create that kind of situation with the fans.

During that era when the business was much more protected than it is today, people really believed that Lou was this crazy, loose cannon. Away from the ring, was he anything like the guy the fans saw?

No question about it, that was him. That’s why he was so good at what he did, because he brought himself in front of that mic every day. Most people wouldn’t believe it, but the way he was in the ring was mostly the way he was outside the ring. That was Lou 24 hours a day. Lou was a pretty fearless guy. A lot of times he would go a little over the edge, and if any [fans] attacked him, he’d fight. He was just that type of a guy. One time on an interview, he said, “This Sammartino is such a disgrace. I’m embarrassed to be an Italian if he’s Italian. From now on I’m changing my name from Lou Albano to Lou Alban.” Can you imagine how much that angered some people? But that was Lou. He would say and do things where he would literally put himself at risk. Believe me, there were many times when he had to fight his way from the ring back to the dressing room, but that never put any fear into him. He continued to be what he was. Now since Lou passed I’ve heard some people say that Bobby Heenan might have been the best manager, or Gary Hart, or Fred Blassie, or Ernie Roth (The Grand Wizard). No. I’ll tell you why Lou Albano was No. 1 and nobody could question that fact.

None of those other guys could create that kind of a situation that people were even interested in seeing them wrestle somebody. They wanted Lou to get in the ring. They wanted him to challenge me or challenge Pedro Morales or someone else. They wanted that because they so hated him because of the way he was on camera and on the mic. Nobody generated that kind of a situation. I never remember Ernie Roth, Bobby Heenan or Blassie literally attacked by the fans like Lou would be. That tells the whole story as to who the hottest manager was. I’m not saying it because Lou has passed on now. I’ve said that any time the question came up. What I’m telling you now I said 30 years ago. If there was any question about that it was never from the wrestlers, if was from the outsiders that think that they know this or that. The wrestlers all agreed that nobody was hotter than Lou. Lou would jump in the ring and take a shot at you. You’d pick him up and slam him and he’d run out like a coward, and people would resent him even more for that. Heenan was very good – I would never take anything away from Bobby Heenan. I’m just telling you that you could not put any of these guys with Lou.

You have any good stories about Lou – one that you can tell?

Boy, I’d have to think about that, because Lou, my God, he was in a class all by himself. Here’s one that just came to me. Lou was a spokesperson for MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and they were having a big fundraiser here in Pittsburgh. That night, Lou is at the hotel, and he has to catch a plane the next day. He’s hearing loud noises from the next room. He was getting more and more irritated because it was like 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. So Lou being the hot-tempered guy that he was, pounded on the wall and used a few choice words in telling them to knock off the noise. The voices on the other side hollered back, “What are you going to do about it?” Lou being Lou said, “Step into the hallway you S.O.B.” Well when he opened the door and stepped out, Lou saw Mike Tyson and his entourage. Here was Lou standing in the hallway in his underwear. Tyson was a big wrestling fan, and he looked at him and said, “Lou?” And Lou looked at Tyson and said, “Mike?” Next thing you know, from this war that was going to take place, they hugged and it was like, “Oh, nice to see you again,” because they had met before. But I’ll tell you something about Lou. When he said step out, he didn’t know who he was talking to, nor would he care. I assure you if it wasn’t Tyson – or even if it was Tyson and he didn’t know him – it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Lou talked in his book about Vince McMahon Sr. firing him several times. With Lou’s personality, was he a pain in the butt for Vince Sr. and Vince Jr.?

He could be. Lou was outspoken, and sometimes he did things that he shouldn’t have done. Lou used to like to have a drink [laughs], and that would rile him up even more. It was easy for Lou to get himself in predicaments, let’s put it that way [laughs]. Yeah, he was fired a few times. A couple times I felt that it was not justified, and I stepped in and fixed things up to pull him back in. Sometimes he was wrong and I would tell him, “Lou, you can’t do that. What’s the matter with you?” But a couple times I thought he was right and I stood up for him. The thing about him that a lot of people don’t know is that they saw this crazy guy, but Lou was a good man. He was a very decent man. He was a very good father. He had five children and, my God, he loved those kids. He was as good a dad as you could be. He was married like 55 years to the same woman. All Lou would talk about was his wonderful wife and how blessed he was that God had him meet such a wonderful person, because Lou wasn’t always the easiest guy in the world, you know. When he got himself involved in MS, he did a lot of charity work for that. So he was a hothead guy and crazy in some ways, but at the same time he was a very, very good man.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 2:55 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Q&As
        

Comments

Great interview, Kev. Being an Italian-American wrestling fan living near Philly in the 70's, obviously Bruno was the favorite of my Dad, brother and me. The interview he quoted about Albano changing his name is one of our favorites, and we still talk about it. Great stuff from a great man....... he WILL be missed.

Bruno is right, no one made you hate him more than Lou, but what a great manager. Who can manage the Wild Samoans, who almost never said a word and make them the hottest tag team of their time? It was such a great story line. And then turn around a few years later and become a face manager with the same success.

On a side note, I met Bruno last weekend. What an absolute gentleman and great man.

As I recall, 'The Brain' came to the WWF in 1984 when Lou was hot with the 'Rock'n Wrestling Connection'. Heenan made an instant impact as a great heel manager and then Capt. turned babyface managing the British Bulldogs, Windham, Rotundo. How great was that to have Lou and Bobby in the WWF for a couple of years. What year did the Capt.leave WWF? It almost seemed as if the WWF wasn't big enough for both superstar managers. Was there any jealousy from Capt. toward Bobby? Heenan kind of took over especially doing his announcing gig ('broadcast jouralist' ) with Gorilla on Prime Time and Wrestling Challenge. Any thoughts on this?

RESPONSE FROM KE: I thinl Albano left in 1986 or 87.

Great stuff!

"I wrestled him at The Boston Garden and the Civic Center there in Baltimore – because people wanted to see him get the heck beat out of him. He had that ability to really create that kind of situation with the fans."

I can vouch for that. He was a big attraction at MSG as well!

As they say , he was truly one of a kind. I think God created Professional Wrestling mainly for guys like Lou ALbano.

Nice piece. well done. Red Berry with his sawed-off cane was a hoot and one to rival Capt. Lou Albano's star as a manager.
RIP

I agree with Bruno Sammartino that Captain Lou Albano was the best manager that ever was in the history of the WWE and at the same time I would like to say that Bruno Sammartino is one of the best wrestlers that ever wrestled. Barry from New York


I grew up in the 60's watching Bruno and the Captain on Pittsburgh Channel 11's Studio Wrestling with Bill Cardille. In my opinion, all three of these men were (and still are) class acts. 100% class.
Thanks for a great interview.

Well done Kevin .

Bruno is 100% on target when it comes to Lou Albano. I miss that kind of wrestling entertainment back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. What I don't agree with is Bruno not being some part of WWE and accept to be in the Hall of Fame as the only living legend of Wrestling.

Another Philly Boy who used to go to the Philadelphia Arena and Philadelphia Spectrum to watch all those old dogs. I used to watch it on TV every Saturday Morning with my other 9 siblings and all our friends who could fit in our living room. Most of us are starting our lives as senior citizens today, but we still watch RAW, Smackdown, ECW, and the TNWA shows. Don't go to see the shows live anymore because it just don't have that Sports type environment anymore.

Thank you Kevin for this great, insightful interview. I was a WWWF fan in the mid 70's....Lou's work with the Valiant Brothers during this time was great, this was pre-Samoans. Jimmy and Johnny Valiant could talk on their own, but Lou brought them to a different level. Thank again for gaining Bruno's insights on Lou. I enjoyed Bruno vs. Lou at Boston Garden ....in a steel cage no less. (70's chain-link fence version)

I remember Bruno was scheduled to wrestle one of Captain Lou's charges and Albano made the comments "Sammarstinko" and "I used to be Italian" along with the Captain Lou Alban comment. I still remember that interview to this day, yet nothing from RAW ever seems to stick out anymore. They goodness for ROH on HDNET, at least I get to see more than one quality match per show on Mondays.

Thanks for that interview. Bruno Sammartino was the greatest of all time in my book. To hear him talk about Luo Albano so well just warms my heart. Great men from a great era.

Things have changed in the wresting world and there are still great wrestlers and great managers. But these two were class acts that I fear we will never see the likes of again.

When Albano attacked Chief Jay Strongbow and tore up his head dress or assaulted Ivan Putski with a suitcase-I wanted to fight him. It was in the early 70's and he was incredible. I know I am old school but the story they told.

Great article. I really enjoyed Lou over the years as a manager. It's too bad other great managers such as Wild Red Berry and Bobby Davis never get the recognition that they deserve. In the late 50's & early 60's when Lou was still a wrestler, Red Berry and Bobby Davis were the best. Red could out talk anyone, and If you ever saw one of his interviews, it's easy to see the influence that he had on the Captain.
RIP CAPTAIN LOU

The Chief Jay Strongbow incident, as I recall, not only involved Albano but also the famous Greek wrestler, Spiros Arion.
What an impact that storyline had. My grandmother, a timid sweet woman, loved the chief. But when she saw Albano and Spiros humiliating Strongbow, she began slapping her thigh, yelling in her native Euro tongue at the television.
We all hated Albano! Today, now that I know the truth, I love him and hope he is at peace.

is bruno still alived and how old is he

RESPONSE FROM KE: Yes. He is 74

Bruno was my wrestling hero, i have got to see Bruno wrestle many times in Pittsburgh Pa. I always wanted to meet Bruno, but never got the chance.As for Mr. Albano, I wrote him a letter 5 years ago asking some question's about masked wrestler's, he didn't answer my questions, but sent me an autographed picture of himself. I will cherish that picture always. R.I.P. Lou.

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About Kevin Eck
The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck blogs about professional wrestling.
E-mail Kevin.
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