(full disclosure – I actually wrote this as a segment for the show I co-produce, Mixer Red Show. If it sounds like this was written with a script-like tone, that’s because it was. I wasn’t 100% happy with the way it turned out on the show, so the heck with it, it’ll live here now.)
Last Sunday was Wrestlemania 35, where Dave Batista fought his final match, Kofi Kingston won his first championship, and Becky Lynch won the very first WrestleMania women’s main event. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we here at the Mixer Red Show wanted to highlight the bizarre relationship between a WWE Hall of Famer and Nintendo’s main guy, Mario. It’s a segment that’s often imitated, never duplicated, it’s –
THE WATCHIN’ TV WITH ADMIRAX THREAD
Let’s go back to the 1970’s – the Bee Gees rule the radio, Jimmy Carter is in the White House, and professional wrestling is building a small but dedicated fan base in the United States. A mediocre wrestler by the name of Lou Albano has been catching the attention of the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Although Albano isn’t a great physical wrestler, his personality and crowd work are perfectly suited to a new gimmick the WWWF wants to try – having on-stage managers to act as mouthpieces for wrestlers, and to rile up the crowd before matches. Albano, knowing about the terrible health many wrestlers suffered from, leapt at the chance to participate in the sport in a safer way.
Albano excelled as a heel – or villain – character. He taunted crowds and mocked fan favorite wrestlers. When one wrestler he managed in 1971 won a title match against a favorite, the crowd rioted, and chased Albano and his wife several blocks, causing more than $160,000 in 2018 dollars along the way. Albano would go on to manage fifty wrestlers who would win two dozen championships, staying a character fans loved to hate along the way. He wore rubber bands in his unkempt beard, and had a safety pin pierced through his cheek, giving him a wild and distinct visual style.
In 1984, Albano happened to meet the up-and-coming singer Cyndi Lauper on a plane. On the advice of her manager, Cyndi incorporated Albano into several of her music videos, including “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Goonies R Good Enough.” The two began a lifelong friendship, and the collaboration even led to Cyndi making an appearance on Championship Wrestling. Albano began working more in the world outside of wrestling, which included managing a rock band and working with charities combating multiple sclerosis. This increased involvement in charity and music clashed with his “heel” character, and after a brief storyline in which Albano turned “face” – or good guy – he retired from the world of wrestling.
Now, what does all of this have to do with Nintendo, you may ask? Around the time that Albano was looking for a way out of the wrestling world, the entertainment company DIC was negotiating with Nintendo to produce a show based on the then still-new Super Mario Brothers franchise. It’s unclear why showrunners picked Albano for the role of Mario, besides perhaps the fact that Albano was Italian. Where Albano’s public persona up until then had been crude and brash, the character of Mario had little in the way of substance besides being vaguely friendly. Albano was reluctant to shave his beard for the role, but at the encouragement of his wife, he accepted the role of Mario.
The show itself, if you’ve never seen it, was better than you’d expect. Albano brought an entirely unique charisma to the role – Mario was now a schlubby but good-natured blue collar New Yorker. He and his brother Luigi – played by Danny Wells – had a teasing and playful relationship, and the two actors played well together in roles that could have easily gone too camp or cheesy. The show would open with a live-action segment featuring a celebrity cameo from surprisingly big names of the day. This included celebrities such as Baywatch’s Nicole Eggert, Magic Johnson, Danica McKellar, and Cyndi Lauper. These segments would feature copious amounts of sound effects from the game and an overwrought laugh track. According to Albano, these segments were largely improvised, a skill which Albano had long since mastered by that point.
The live-action segments would be broken up by animated Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda cartoons, which we’ve discussed on previous Museum of the Weird segments. The Super Mario Brothers cartoons were voiced by the same actors who played them in the live-action segments, providing lots of room for the two to fully inhabit Mario and Luigi as characters.
And although the show was better than you’d expect, it still wasn’t very good. Critical reception to the show was dismal, and although it premiered well, viewership of the series quickly dropped off. After fifty-two episodes, the show was canceled. Home video releases of the show were scarce and difficult to find, but the entire series is available on both YouTube and Netflix. Though the show is remembered best as a cult classic, Lou Albano’s portrayal of the character is fondly remembered, as is the man himself. Albano, who married his high school sweetheart and stayed with her for fifty-six years until his death, was a weird and wonderful addition to the Nintendo canon.