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Bud Abbott (left) and Lou Costello (right)

Abbott and Costello

Category: Stand up comedy, Stage, Film

Rating: anyone that can see and hear, you may learn some bad habits by watching but they will be harmless habits

Abbott and Costello are William (Bud) Abbott and Lou Costello (born Louis Francis Cristillo).  They became famous from their work in radio, film and television.  They were the most popular comedy team during the 1940s.  Their famous "Who's on First?" routine got them featured in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It was rumored that they were inducted into the Hall,

Bud Abbott was born in Asbury Park, NJ, October 2, 1895 and died April 24, 1974 in Woodlands Hills, California.  Lou Costello was born in Paterson, NJ, March 6, 1906 and died March 3, 1959 in East Los Angeles, California.

The Burlesque Years

Bud Abbott came from a show business family and was a veteran burlesque entertainer.  He had worked at Coney Island and ran his own burlesque touring companies.  He first worked as a straight man to his wife Betty, then later with burlesque comedians like Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson.  Abbott was performing in Minsky's burlesque shows when he met Costello. 

Lou Costello had been a burlesque comic since 1930.  He failed to break into movie acting and worked as a stunt double and did film extra work.

The duo first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Burlesque Theatre on 42nd Street in New York.  Abbott's wife and other performers in the show recommended that Abbott and Costello start an act together.  Abbott would be the straight man and Costello would dimwitted sidekick.    

 

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Fame

Abbott and Costello's first known radio appearance was on the Kate Smith Hour in February, 1938.  The following month they performed "Who's on First?" for a national radio audience.  They were regulars on the show for two years.  The similarities in their voices made it hard for listeners to tell them apart, especially because the script was quick moving.  Costello started using a high-pitched childish voice.  They were able to get roles in a Broadway revue "The Street of Paris" in 1939. 

In 1940 they were signed by Universal Studios for the film One Night in the Tropics.  They were cast in supporting roles.  They replaced Fred Allen during the summer of the same year.  Two years later they had their own NBC show.  They signed a long-term contract with universal.  Their second film, Buck Privates, (1941) made them box-office stars.  They made over 30 films between 1940 and 1956.  Abbott and Costello were among the top and highest paid entertainers in the world during World War II.  In 1942, Abbott and Costello were the top box office draw with a reported take of $10 million. They would remain a top ten box office attraction until 1952.

 

 

Radio

After working as Allen's summer replacement, Abbott and Costello joined Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on The Chase and Sanborn Hour in 1941, while two of their films (Buck Privates and Hold That Ghost) were adapted for Lux Radio Theater. 

The Abbott and Costello Show was a mix of comedy and music.  Ken Niles was the show's longtime announcer.  He also played part in Abbott and Costello's mishaps.  Michael Roy succeeded Niles.  

In 1947 Abbott and Costello moved the show to ABC (the former NBC Blue Network).

 

Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein Poster

Television

In 1951, they moved to television as rotating hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour. (Eddie Cantor and Martin and Lewis were among the others.) Each show was a live hour of vaudeville in front of a theater audience, revitalizing the comedians' performances and giving their old routines a new sparkle. Beginning in 1952, a filmed half-hour series, The Abbott and Costello Show, appeared in syndication on local stations across the county. Loosely based on their radio series, the show cast the duo as unemployed characters. One of the show's running gags involved Abbott perpetually nagging Costello to get a job to pay their rent, while Abbott barely lifted a finger in that direction. 

Private lives

Both Abbott and Costello married women they knew in burlesque. Bud Abbott married Betty Smith in 1918, and Lou Costello married Anne Battler in 1934. The Costellos had four children; the Abbotts adopted two.  Abbott and Costello both gambled and had serious health problems. Abbott suffered from epilepsy and turned to alcohol for pain management.

Costello had occasional, near-fatal bouts with rheumatic fever. On November 4, 1943, the same day that Costello returned to radio after a one year layoff due to his illness with rheumatic fever, his infant son "Butch" (born November 6, 1942) died in an accidental drowning in the family's swimming pool. During 1945, a rift developed when Abbott hired a domestic servant who had been fired by Costello. Stung by Abbott's move, Costello refused to speak to his partner except when performing. The team's films of 1946 reflect the split, with the comedians appearing separately in character roles. Abbott resolved the rift in 1947 when he volunteered to help with Costello's pet charity, a foundation for underprivileged children.

Later years

In the 1950s Abbott and Costello became less popular as Martin and Lewis took over their spot.  Overexposure was another reason they lost popularity.  Abbott and Costello routines were flooding the movie and television markets.  Universal dropped the comedy team in 1955.  After one more independent film, Bud Abbott retired from performing. In 1956, the Internal Revenue Service charged them for back taxes, forcing them to sell their homes and most of their assets, including their film rights. In 1957 they formally dissolved their partnership.

Lou Costello made about ten solo appearances on The Steve Allen Show and headlined in Las Vegas. He appeared in episodes of GE Theater and Wagon Train. On March 3, 1959, shortly after making his lone solo film, The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, Lou Costello died of a heart attack just short of his 53rd birthday. Bud Abbott attempted a comeback in 1960, teaming with Candy Candido. Although the new act received good reviews, Bud quit, saying, "No one could ever live up to Lou." A serious weakness of the new act was that it copied the old act. Abbott and Candido simply reprised old Abbott & Costello routines, with Candido blatantly imitating Costello. Candido would then do a comedic monologue in his own persona while Abbott took a break backstage, then the finale consisted of both men performing the classic "Who's on First?" routine.

Abbott made a solo appearance on an episode of GE Theater in 1961. In 1966 Bud voiced his character in a series of 156 five-minute Abbott and Costello cartoons made by Hanna-Barbera.  Lou's character was voiced by Stan Irwin. Bud Abbott died of cancer on April 24, 1974.

Spin-offs

Warner Bros.'s Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies made a few cartoons featuring Abbott and Costello as cats or mice.  The characters were called "Babbit and Catstello."  In "A Tale of Two Kitties" we are introduced to Tweety.  Did you just say "who?"  Slap yourself.  "I taught I taw a putty tat.  I did I did.  I did see a putty tat."  My mom used to get a chuckle out of Tweety.  (Tweety gave me many happy memories with my mom).  The voices in "Babbit and Catstello" and "A Tale of Two Kitties" are done by Tedd Pierce and Mel Blanc.  Tedd Pierce is Abbott and Mel Blank is Costello.  In 1994 Jerry Seinfeld hosted a television special Abbott and Costello meet Jerry Seinfeld.  Seinfeld claims to be inspired by the work of Abbott and Costello.   

 



 

 

 

 

 

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