THE FABULOUS KANGAROOS
Al Costello, Roy Heffernan, Ray St. Clair, Don Kent,
Tony Charles, Bruno Bekkar, Johnny Heffernan
1957 - 1983
Written by Mike Rickard
With a tag team that wreaked havoc in one form or another from the late 50s to the early 90s, the Fabulous Kangaroos are not only a long-lived team, but one of the all-time greats. This Australian team began in 1957 and ended their illustrious run in 1983, with new incarnations carrying on until the 90s. Originally comprised of Al Costello and Roy Heffernan, the Kangaroos were more than heat magnets, they were capable of inciting nuclear-level heat from the fans, leading to riots. Naturally, promoters everywhere wanted them as long as they could keep the fans from killing a top draw.
The Original Kangaroos
The Kangaroos would go through several incarnations but the original team consisted of Al Costello and Roy Heffernan. Costello was born Giacomo Costa, and moved to Australia from Italy when he was six years old. Costa took the name Al Costello to avoid his parents finding out. Australian native Laurence Roy Heffernan trained as a bodybuilder before turning to professional wrestling. According to the book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams, Costello came up with the idea of the Fabulous Kangaroos, envisioning a team outfitted with bush hats and throwing boomerangs out to the fans.
However, it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the Kangaroos finally came into being. Costello was working in Stu Hart’s Calgary-based wrestling promotion when he teamed with his friend Heffernan as the Kangaroos. The addition of manager “Wild” Red Berry completed the team and a legendary duo was born. Before long, the Kangaroos were main-eventing in Calgary and things were just beginning.
Controversy Creates Cash
Long before “Leaping” Lanny Poffo threw out frisbees to the fans or Kofi Kingston dished out pancakes, the Kangaroos threw out paper boomerangs to the fans. The team was savvy at marketing and wore bush hats to the ring while the song “Waltzing Matilda” played, possibly making them the first tag team to use music for their entrance (“Gorgeous” George would enter to “Pomp and Circumstance” but he competed as a singles wrestler). Like any good heel or heel team, the Kangaroos knew how to get heat and entice fans into buying tickets to see the villains get their comeuppance. In a 2010 interview, Kangaroo Costello looked back on how much they drew:
Some of the biggest houses we drew were in Madison Square Garden," related Costello. "The first meeting we had with [Argentina] Rocca and [Miguel] Perez drew over 20,000 fans into the Garden and perhaps another 10,000 fans had to be turned away. Scalpers were getting as much as $25.00 for ringside tickets. Wild Red Berry was our manager and added much color to the team. Red is a very talented man when it comes to making speeches and the fans around New York nicknamed him 'Squeaky.' "The gate for the Rocca-Perez show was $63,000. The only gate in the last 15 years to top it was when Buddy Rogers defeated Pat O'Connor in Comiskey Park in Chicago, to draw a record $138,000."
These figures are impressive when you consider they drew these numbers likely around the late 1950s or early 60s.
A Riot-Inducing Team
In an era when kayfabe was taken much more seriously, fans could only take so much, and on at least one occasion, the Kangaroos’ ability to draw heel heat led to literal heat. During a 1964 bout in Winnipeg, the Kangaroos teamed up with Stan Stasiak against the babyface team of Don Leo Jonathan, Roy McClarty, and Karl Gotch. It didn’t take the Kangaroos and their honorary Kangaroo partner for the night to draw the fans’ ire. As detailed in The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams:
A mob started to throw chairs at them and the bad guys sought relief under the ring. Even that was hardly a safe position—irate fans tried to set the ring drape ablaze and “smoke out the Kangaroos”
Thankfully, the Kangaroos escaped without going up in smoke, but it would be one of many escapes from a bloodthirsty crowd, another reminder of how they knew to work up the fans.
A New Generation of Kangaroos
Costello and Heffernan continued hopping around the world, causing chaos wherever they went. The team split up when Heffernan decided to focus on singles wrestling and working in the promoter’s office, but the Kangaroos were only getting started. In 1967, Costello recruited wrestler Tinker Todd as Ray St. Clair (Oliver and Johnson 20) as his new partner. Unfortunately, a bad knee knocked him out of the picture, Costello recruited American grappler Leo Smith, Jr. who transformed into Australian Don Kent. The Costello and Kent incarnation of the Kangaroos proved successful and after hip replacement surgery, the 56-year-old Costello teamed back up, this time with Tony Charles. Costello reunited with Kent.
While the Kangaroo teams of Costello and Heffernan and Costello and Kent are the best-known and the most successful, several other versions would form including a “New Fabulous Kangaroos” team managed by Costello and featuring the tandem of Denny Kass and one Al Snow. By now, Costello was training wrestlers and Snow became one of his top pupils
A Legacy that Should Carry On
The Fabulous Kangaroos are a team that should never be forgotten when fans talk about the all-time greats. In their book, The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams, historians Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson rank the Kangaroos as the greatest tag team of all time. Looking at their accomplishments, the case certainly can be made. Like any comparison involving wrestlers from the territory era and the modern era, it’s difficult to compare, but the Fabulous Kangaroos’ accomplishments and longevity put them right at the top in my opinion.
Baker, Roger. “Blast from The Past: Wreaking Havoc in Wrestling World That's the "Fabulous
Kangaroos" SLAM! Sports. SLAM! Wrestling. 6 Aug. 2010. Accessed 7 May 2020.
Oliver, Greg and Steven Johnson. The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams, 2005.
“Wrestling / The Fabulous Kangaroos.” TV Tropes. Wrestling. Accessed 7 May 2020.