Remembering Percival A (for Al) Friend
Remembering Percival A (for Al) Friend
By Dr. Mike Lano
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Lano)
We were all friends of the great Al Friend (born Albion Joseph Friend who passed on the 23rd), a longtime Midwest manager but more importantly a great friend and give-backer to the biz he so loved. A regular for some 15 years at Cauliflower Alley Club and a phenomenally nice person. Al had taught some of the Harts and Bob Johnson how to play the wrestler’s famous mainstay competitive board game(combining a lot of skill sets) in Cribbage as well as many others and he was right up there at CAC, winning our annual Cribbage tournaments several times over other longtime winners in Destroyer Dick Beyer, Butcher Paul Vachon and Riki Ataki.
He started as a wrestler in 1963 (“I wasn’t ever as good as I thought I should be and so turned to managing in 1970” he told me) and primarily worked for Bob Geigel in Kansas City and also in Texas, often managing stars from outside the U.S. although he said he started out in Detroit driving Sheik(Ed Farhut’s) famous Caddie limo for he and Joyce besides doing some ring-announcing first in Ohio. “I tried to be different when I was a worker, and alternate my masks and outfits because I was hooded most of the time in my brief wrestling career.”
Some of the great Central States boys he managed in the early to mid 70’s include Handsome Harley Race, Roger “Nature Boy, Rip” Kirby, Wild Angus Campbell when he was a heel, Tokyo Joe and of course the Fireball-throwing Sheik(greatest heel in the biz ever in my opinion as his 60’s fan club prez). He also said he worked briefly in the early 60’s for Vince Sr. He was also famous for managing foreign tag teams like Yasu Fuji and Chati Yokochi who won Geigel’s tag straps and “to this day believed tag team wrestling was a fantastic and sometimes lost art form.” At some of the more recent CAC’s, it was always a kick to pose all the surivivng Kansas City legends together: Bob Geigel himself before we lost him, Harley, Akio Sato and his legendary world champeen wife Betty Niccoli, Reggie Parks, Kerry Brown, Ed Wiskowski, Art Crews, and legendary TV announcer Bill Kersten.
He said he was forced to leave the biz to care for his new family members including his new daughter at the time ”to spend better quality time with them rather than being constantly on the road.”
Ala Ric Flair, Arn and many others, Al Friend loved oldies rock music from the 50’s and 60’s. He also loved playing ribs on managing/industry pals like Dave Drason Burzynski who he’d known since the 60’s. “Not Johnny Valentine type mean ribs, just harmless little pranks. Well, I always thought they were harmless. Dave might not have!” He also loved his friends Bobo Brazil, Omar(brother to Cyclone Negro) Atlas who was another Geigel KC mainstay.
Amongst his most famous quotes he said on my show and many others include: “Warm up, Psych Up and deliver to that audience! They want you to entertain them.” “Always try to deliver and deliver a message to that crowd, tell that story!”
“You need to know and love what you’re doing in that ring and not just try to make a name for yourself. You’re part of a team.”
Percival A (Al as we always called him) Friend was one in a million. Always nice to everyone from his peers to new marks/fans at events like Cauliflower Alley where he was given one of our top honors and awards just last year; he was missed this past April amidst ailing health. His passing is a great loss but keep his memory alive in your heart and minds. This was one great human being, let alone pro wrestling greats.
*Was back last night as a regular on Bruce Hart and Bob Johnson’s Podcast radio show which was dedicated to Al. We also had Mike McGuirk on who Al was always proud of and she related some thoughts about Al and what a loss his passing has been. I tried to put Mike over as not just born and raised in this biz with a legendary World Jr Champ dad and promoting legend, but also a pioneer as the first national female ring announcer. The fact that now both WWE and TNA on-camera only have female ring announcers is a testament to Michael Kathleen McGuirk’s hard work, insane travel schedule and many accomplishments. And highjinks backstage as she said with her good pal Sheri Martel there in those WWF days. Mike said often she knew what was coming later when Sheri would ask to do Mike’s hair before a big house show and sometimes even tv. That later on in front of the crowds, Sheri would totally mess up Mike’s hair. I asked and Mike talked about how important her mom’s role was in her dad’s promotion but forgot to ask her why she left the biz after making so much history on various levels within it.
Does anyone know until asking her directly? Also, if you haven’t rewatched the awesome 1962 Rod Serling film remake from his CBS TV Playhouse show, Requiem For a Heavyweight with boys like Calhoun, Sky Low Low, Gene and Steve Stanlee, it’s worth checking out TCM as they often run this 5 star classic. Also Paint Your Wagon with HB Hag never gets old. 5 stars always. These might be the greatest classic, pre-70’s films with pro wrestlers in them. Alias the Champ just not the greatest in terms of “film work rate,” but who could ever fault a project with King Gorgeous George in it?
— Dr. Mike Lano