Abbott, Bud, and Lou Costello
ABBOTT, Bud, and Lou COSTELLO
ABBOTT. Nationality: American. Born: William Abbott in Asbury Park, New Jersey, 2 October 1895. Education: Dropped out of school in 1909. Family: Married Betty Smith, 1918, two adopted children. Career: During childhood worked in carnivals, then assistant treasurer of Casino Theater in Brooklyn, treasurer or manager of various theaters throughout the United States; while manager at the National Theater in Detroit, worked vaudeville as straight man to performers such as Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson; 1931—while working as a cashier in a Brooklyn theater, asked to substitute for Costello's sick straight man, became a comic team; 1960s—unsuccessfully attempted to revive act with new partner Candy Candido; 1966—provided voiceover for cartoon version of The Abbott and Costello Show. Died: 24 April 1974.
COSTELLO. Nationality: American. Born: Louis Francis Cristillo in Paterson, New Jersey, 6 March 1906. Education: Finished high school. Family: Married the dancer Anne Battlers, 1934, children:
Carole, Patricia, and Lou Jr. Career: Late 1920s—carpenter at MGM and Warners, later became stunt man, then comic in vaudeville; 1931—began working with Abbott; 1959—appeared on his own in a film and on television. Died: 26 February 1959.
From 1931—worked as a team in burlesque (including Minsky's), minstrel shows, vaudeville and movie houses; 1938—team became known nationally from radio appearances on The Kate Smith Hour ; 1939—starred in Broadway review The Streets of Paris, and signed by Universal for first film, One Night in the Tropics ; 1941–49—starred in radio show The Abbott and Costello Program for ABC (1941–46) and NBC (1946–49); 1952–53—TV series The Abbott and Costello Show ; 1957—both went broke, the team split up.
Films as Actors:
One Night in the Tropics (Sutherland)
Buck Privates (Rookies ) (Lubin); In the Navy (Lubin); Hold That Ghost (Lubin); Keep 'Em Flying (Lubin); Meet the Stars No. 4
Who Done It? (Kenton); Ride 'Em Cowboy (Lubin); Rio Rita (Simon); Pardon My Sarong (Kenton)
It Ain't Hay (Money for Jam ) (Kenton); Hit the Ice (Lamont)
In Society (Yarbrough); Lost in a Harem (Riesner)
Here Come the Co-eds (Yarbrough); The Naughty Nineties (Yarbrough); Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (Simon)
Little Giant (On the Carpet ) (Seiter); The Time of Their Lives (Barton); The Ghost Steps Out (Barton) (Abbott only)
Buck Privates Come Home (Rookies Come Home ) (Barton); The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (The Wistful Widow ) (Barton)
The Noose Hangs High (Barton); Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Abbott and Costello Meet the Ghosts ) (Barton); Mexican Hayride (Barton)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (Barton); Africa Screams (Barton)
Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (Lamont); The Real McCoy (Abbott only)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (Lamont); Comin' Round the Mountain (Lamont)
Jack and the Beanstalk (Yarbrough); Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (Lamont); Lost in Alaska (Yarbrough)
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (Lamont)
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Lamont); Screen Snapshots No. 225
Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Cops (Lamont); Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (Lamont)
Dance with Me, Henry (Barton)
The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (Miller) (Costello only)
The World of Abbott and Costello (compilation produced by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky)
On ABBOTT and COSTELLO: books—
Anobile, Richard J., Who's on First? Verbal and Visual Gems from the Films of Abbott and Costello, New York, 1973.
Mulholland, Jim, The Abbott and Costello Book, New York, 1975.
Thomas, Bob, Bud and Lou: The Abbott and Costello Story, Philadelphia, 1977.
Costello, Chris, and Raymond Strait, Lou's on First: A Biography, New York, 1981.
Cox, Stephen, and John Lofflin, The Official Abbott and Costello Scrapbook, Chicago, 1990.
Furmanek, Bob, and Ron Palumbo, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood, New York, 1991.
Cox, Stephen, and John Lofflin, The Abbott and Costello Story, Kansas City, Missouri, 1997.
Miller, Jeffrey S. The Horror Spoofs of Abbott and Costello: A Critical Assessment of the Comedy Team's Monster Films. Jefferson, North Carolina, 1999.
On ABBOTT and COSTELLO: articles—
Barton, Charles, "Abbott and Costello: Wacky Camaraderie," in Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book, edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.
Shipman, David, in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, rev. ed., London, 1979.
Article on Costello, in Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), May 1982.
Gifford, Denis, "Abbott and Costello," in Films and Filming (London), June 1984.
Morlan, D.B., "Slapstick Contributions to WWII Propoganda: The Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello." Studies in Popular Culture (Louisville, Kentucky), vol. 17, no. 1, 1994.
On ABBOTT and COSTELLO: film—
Bud and Lou, television movie directed by Robert C. Thompson, 1978.* * *
From 1941 to 1951 Abbott and Costello reigned as Hollywood's top comedy team. Bud Abbott was the tall, mustached straight man; Lou Costello was the short, roly-poly clown. Signed by Universal in 1939, the team was eventually thrown into a war comedy with the Andrews sisters, Buck Privates. Reportedly this film grossed a then-corporate record of $10 million, and helped vault this pair of burlesque-trained comics onto the list of the top stars in Hollywood. In 1942 Abbott and Costello were more successful than such noteables as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Bob Hope, Betty Grable, and Spencer Tracy.
When they were discovered by Hollywood in 1939, the pair had already been working together for nearly a decade. They tried and perfected their verbal slapstick routines on thousands of burlesque and vaudeville audiences, taking the best of their material and performing it first to the nation as a whole on radio, and then in the movies. Even on Broadway in Street of Paris, they were "Abbott and Costello," exchanging funny dialogue in long-established routines. Their films, consequently, represent almost archival recordings of the long-lost art of burlesque comedy.
During World War II, they made an average of two films per year using a formula from which they rarely varied. The duo invariably were placed in a specific but familiar setting (often the military service) and left to wreak havoc, only interrupted for the required subplot involving a romance between two now long-forgotten Universal contract players. Only rarely did they have much help at the box office. Notable exceptions were the aforementioned Andrews sisters and in Keep 'em Flying, Martha Raye playing twin sisters.
But the box-office returns throughout the World War II era always stayed high; during that period the duo needed little help. As soon as the war was over, however, Abbott and Costello began a steady decline in popularity. Universal then tried a new formula featuring the pair confronted by a ghost or other force of evil. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein set off a new seven-year cycle which included the duo dueling with Boris Karloff, the Invisible Man, Captain Kidd (portrayed by none other than Charles Laughton), Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy. During this run, Abbott and Costello alternatively journeyed to exotic locales to romp: twice to Africa, and once each to rural Kentucky, Alaska, and the planet Mars.
All of these filmic efforts only served to underscore the flagging popularity of the comic pair, and so it was not surprising that Abbott and Costello turned to the new medium of television in 1951. That year, they made their debut on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour, simply repeating an old radio routine. They then decided to create their own half-hour series, The Abbott and Costello Show, for the 1952–53 season. Although the series lasted only one year in prime time, the 52 episodes were then rerun constantly during the rest of 1950s. Once the show moved to independent stations it became a staple; one New York City station is said to have run each episode at least 200 times.
The residuals from the television series helped settle the duo's final public performance—a bout with the Internal Revenue Service over back-taxes. After Costello's death, Abbott tried to revive the act with a new partner, Candy Candido, a Costello look-alike. The act failed, but Abbott and Costello live on in their glory through the revival of their movies and shows on cable television.