Genius or maniac?

Handsome matinee idol or bloodthirsty devil worshipper?

Who really was Mark Lewin?

A new book on the wrestler, "The Multiple Personalities of Mark Lewin," explores the fascinating life of one of pro wrestling's most mysterious and complex characters.

The book, written by Lewin and co-author Phillip Varriale, who also penned previous gems on managers J.J. Dillon, Gary Hart and Lou Albano, attempts to give readers an inside look at a former wrestling star who literally disappeared from the mat scene after retiring more than 25 years ago.

As fascinating a character as Lewin was, readers won't find a lot of dirt in this autobiography. Not that it wasn't available in ample supply. Quite the contrary. It's just that Lewin says he had too great a career to look back on it now and be anything but thankful.

And the book clocks in at a brisk 168 pages, which begs the question, will there be more?

What is there, however, should entertain readers, many of whom have been wondering for years: Whatever happened to Mark Lewin?

That question will be thoroughly answered in Lewin's book, which contains many old and current photos of the wrestling enigma, who is now 76 years old and living off the coast of Washington state.

Early success

To say Lewin was a man of many faces would be a gross understatement.

His pro career began more than 60 years ago - in 1953 - during the sport's Golden Era. He says he was drawn to the profession like a magnet.

Initially attracted to the business watching future brother-in-law "Dangerous" Danny McShain, one of the top villains of that era, Lewin knew he wanted to be part of the show.

"He had this unique magnetism about him where I wanted to watch only him. He put his heart and soul into every single movement, and he wanted to be the heel of the walk," Lewin says of McShain.

When Lewin's father invited McShain to their Buffalo home, Lewin was hooked.

"I liked him even more. He dressed immaculately and was extremely well groomed. He was everything to me and was a true innovator in the business."

It was McShain who took Lewin to California to get a wrestling license at the age of 16 despite being underage.

Lewin, who would be trained by McShain, broke into the profession during an exciting time in the business. It was the Golden Age of Wrestling, and Lewin soaked it up like a sponge.

"I started out almost on top with Danny McShain guiding me. But the business was very different back then. Hollywood wrestling was big. There was a star quality to it. It was really great."

And Lewin, who at his peak could bench-press 500 pounds, was a chiseled specimen with movie-star good looks.

Lewin, one of three brothers who wrestled professionally, enjoyed early success when he was paired with fellow Buffalo native Don Curtis. The two teamed for five years - from 1958 to 1963 - as the consummate student-teacher tandem.

Lewin and Curtis headlined New York City's Madison Square Garden on a number of occasions and became the very first holders of what is now known as the WWE tag-team title.

The babyface tandem swapped the U.S. tag-team title with Eddie Graham (Eddie Gossett) and "brother" Jerry twice in 1958. So heated were the matches that Jerry received a six-inch gash at the hands of an angry fan in Washington. D.C., after he and his faux brother defeated Lewin and Curtis for the title in September 1958.

"Mark was almost a 'Greek god-like' image, and Don was the protector of him, being raw-boned, sinewy, and about 10 years older than that 'kid' from Buffalo," Don's widow, Dotty Curtis, recalled.

"Don was quirky, but a great guy," says Lewin. "He was educated at the University of Buffalo and was a great amateur. It was great to work out with him. We were both Buffalo boys."

Walking into main events at Madison Square Garden - one of wrestling's most storied venues - could have been a little much for someone as young as Lewin. But he embraced it.

"Wrestling at Madison Square Garden was a little overwhelming," says Lewin. "Wrestling is 5,000 years old, and wrestling on the marquee meant something. I loved it."

Right place, right time

Various measures of success seemed to follow Lewin throughout his career.

Was it luck or was Lewin merely in the right place at the right time?

Maybe part of the mystique, Lewin explains, involved the people who surrounded him.

He rattles off a list of colorful characters and seasoned pros such as Buddy Rogers, Spiros Arion, Bobo Brazil, Skull Murphy, Brute Bernard, The Sheik and Don Jardine. Different styles, different gimmicks, but all unique performers.

Wrestling was an ever-changing world for Lewin, and he was more than up to the challenge.

Ten years after his pro debut, Lewin would try out an entirely different persona.

"Maniac" Mark Lewin was the polar opposite of the babyface character he had portrayed up to that point. But he became an even bigger name using a crazed gimmick that would spike the blood pressure of fans from Texas to Detroit.

"You have to be a good babyface to be a good heel," reasons Lewin. And he excelled at both.

Lewin constantly reinvented himself to stay fresh and current. That chameleon-like ability to transform not only his character, but also his physical appearance, would serve Lewin well throughout his career in the squared circle.

Down Under

One of Lewin's biggest breaks came when he ventured to Australia during the 1960s and helped open a wrestling "paradise" on that continent.

"I was the first American to get on Channel 5 in Australia. Wrestling Killer Kowalski first and then Mitsu Arakawa. It was just fantastic there. Folks couldn't even get home on Friday nights because the traffic was so bad. It was just a great era of wrestling."

Lewin would become a top attraction over the next two decades in Australia and New Zealand, working closely with legendary promoter Jim Barnett and learning that part of the business.

"We did great business everywhere - Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia. Jim was a TV genius, and it was an exceptional time to be in the business. Jim was great to work for. He had studio shows that were fantastic."

Everywhere Mark Lewin went, a mystique surrounded him, along with a sizable audience.

"It was really an indefinable something," he says. "I have no idea. I guess change followed me. And I was everywhere."

It was in that part of the world where Lewin would form a partnership and lifelong bond with another Curtis - King Curtis Iaukea.

"Curtis (Iaukea) was a great orator," says Lewin. "He was a hard act to follow. He was quick in the ring - like (Lou) Thesz. He was a great athlete."

Iaukea, a 300-pound Hawaiian sports legend who had been a football star at the University of California, would be an important part of Lewin's career going forward, as both a partner and a rival in various territories.

Few had bloodier and more brutal feuds than the one Lewin engaged in with Iaukea. They took their violent battles on the road for various promoters, with the two accused of sometimes even burning out territories.

Iaukea also was known for experimenting with mind expansion that included recreational pharmaceuticals - what Iaukea called "medicine for the mind."

"He was a big influence on me ... a Berkeley guy. We dwelled in mind expansion. You get the picture," laughs Lewin. "I was from the Timothy Leary era. I was with the movie actors out there in Malibu."

One of Lewin's biggest victories came in Los Angeles in 1966 when he won the World Wrestling Alliance heavyweight title from the great Lou Thesz. Several months later he defended the title against Kintaro Oki in front of a reported 48,000 fans in Seoul, South Korea.

Purple Haze

Lewin made one final major splash in the wrestling business with one of his most unique characters.

He took part in a cutting-edge and controversial implied devil-worshipping persona he and Kevin Sullivan developed. His "Purple Haze" character in Florida during the early '80s, as part of Sullivan's demonic cult, set that territory on fire.

Sullivan's "Army of Darkness" was an extension of an angle Lewin had helped develop 10 years earlier in Australia when he formed "The People's Army."

"I was the original Purple Haze," chuckles Lewin. "King Curtis had a big influence on me. Now I wasn't Charlie Manson. I just fit the role ... it wasn't hard."

For Lewin it was just part of the business. He had an innate knack for dramatically changing his characters.

Lewin laughs at the notion that maybe they weren't "gimmicks" after all.

"I lived them all. Maybe they weren't so much gimmicks."

Even his unforgettable "Maniac" character.

"Sometimes things would turn me into a maniac," Lewin jokes. "People are frightened of maniacs. It sort of blended into another personality that I had. I really do have multiple personalities."

Not only did Lewin change his gimmick, but he would often change his physical appearance as well.

"I can change from one look to another," he says. "Different personalities rubbed off. But I lived them all."

Love conquers all

Lewin retired from the ring in the late '80s with a final swing through Singapore.

His life, he says, changed forever - and for the better - when he met "The Princess" there. She was royalty from Malaysia, and he was smitten.

Lewin sent her notes and flowers, and when she finally agreed to meet him, it was love at first sight.

"My life changed for the better, and I left everything behind," he says.

Lewin jokes that he emerged into yet another character - this one "right out of 'Love Boat'" - after the two met.

Lewin and "Princess Lynda" have been married for more than 30 years.

"Everybody loves a lover. Everywhere we went it was like living like a king - Bali, Jakarta, places like that. You might say we lived the high life."

Lewin says some members of her royal family initially were against the marriage.

"They said it wouldn't last. But we proved them wrong. Nothing got in the way of our romance. It just got better and better and better. It's been incredible.

The two spent time in Singapore and other exotic locales, and Lewin eventually drifted away from the wrestling business.

"I got away with the Princess. I stayed over in Asia for quite a while. I was going to Bali. Singapore was wonderful too. I just stayed up that way because I was big there. I had a rating of 40 in Kong Hong. That would be unheard of today."

New life

Who really was Mark Lewin?

He undeniably was one of the most mysterious and captivating stars in the wrestling business during a time when the profession was much more reality-based.

And, like he states in his book, Mark Lewin was a man of many personalities - "sometimes all of them at the same time."

The Mark Lewin of today is a far cry from the grappler of past generations who could manipulate audiences like a master puppeteer and change his look in an instant.

Soft-spoken and somewhat subdued, sporting a short beard and shaved head, the 76-year-old Lewin now lives a relatively quiet but adventurous life with "The Princess."

The two make their home on the San Juan Islands, an archipelago and part of the state of Washington, between the U.S. mainland and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

"It's near Seattle. "It's beautiful here," says Lewin. "There's a lot of highlands like in the Indonesian-type islands."

And while he's no longer "Maniac" Mark Lewin, he says he still trains like one.

Lewin, who once repped at 400 pounds and peaked at 525, no longer works with the heavier weights, but trains daily.

"The Princess and I drive to the gym every day. We go there every morning and train. I'm still squatting 315. I don't run as much as I used to because I don't like so much impact, but I'm keeping up. I've kept myself pretty physical. I still even get on the mat once in a while.

"Two things go together in life for me. First of all, happiness, and I'm happy with my wife. Second of all, I like to keep myself fit - a healthy body and a healthy mind. Happiness is where I'm at."

No regrets

When Lewin's career in the ring was over, he never looked back.

"There was comeback and no begging for a job or anything like that," he says.

Lewin's two older brothers, with whom he occasionally tagged, enjoyed successful second careers after their time in the ring had ended.

Ted, 78, whose wrestling career lasted 15 years, is an author and accomplished illustrator of children's books.

Oldest brother Donn died in 2010 at the age of 84. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment occurred before his wrestling career ever got started.

Donn joined the Marines at the age of 15, having gotten his parents' permission, after forging his application. He served valiantly in World War II, fighting at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Guam, and earning three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in battle.

He later spent 33 years in the wrestling business before becoming an ichthyologist, breeding rare and tropical fish, and establishing himself as an expert in the field.

While Mark Lewin made wrestling his life for several decades, he looks back on his time in the business with no regrets.

He enjoyed a colorful career as a top-flight wrestler, successful booker and international star.

A 2009 inductee into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in upstate New York, Lewin won championships on four different continents with an impressive career spanning nearly the entire second half of the 20th century.

He admits he could have brought in more American stars to Australia when he had a hand in the booking, but at that time says he wasn't interested in upsetting the applecart.

"Looking back they probably wouldn't have been difficult. They might have fit in. I just kept them away because everything was going so smoothly."

"I had no gripe with the wrestling business," adds Lewin. "A lot of the other guys have written books, and they sounded a little bitter to me. You get what you put in. Rather than seeing the dark side, I saw the light in the whole thing."

Lewin says he could have gone another route with his book, but he chose to take the high road.

"It was sour grapes (for many). I didn't see any advantage to it. I could have gone that route. The time I was with Vince (McMahon) Sr. was great. We were friends. Why would I give in to that?"

There's a good chance, says Lewin, that he may follow up on this edition.

"There will be more. I don't intend to leave it there. I'll go into more detail on the next one and elaborate on some of the stories. Everybody likes to hear a success story."

Lewin says he's had the best of both worlds - a successful career in the wrestling business, and now a successful and fulfilling relationship with "The Princess."

"This marriage has really been like paradise," says Lewin. "This has been a true love story. Actually it's a wrestling story and a love story."

Wrestler marries the Princess. Wrestler becomes a Prince.

That just might be his best gimmick yet.

Lewin's book can be ordered through his website at www.ManiacMarkLewin.com.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.