Bud Abbott

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Bud Abbott
Born William Alexander Abbott
October 2, 1897[1]
Asbury Park, New Jersey, U.S.
Died April 24, 1974(1974-04-24) (aged 76)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, comedian, producer
Years active 1924–67
Spouse(s) Betty Smith (m. 1918–74)

William Alexander "Bud" Abbott (October 2, 1897 – April 24, 1974) was an American actor, producer and comedian.[2] He is best remembered as the straight man of the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, with Lou Costello.

Early life[edit]

Abbott was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, into a show business family. His parents, Rae (Fisher) and Harry Abbott, worked for the Barnum and Bailey Circus.[3][4] Abbott dropped out of school as a child and began working for his father in Coney Island. His father, then an employee of the Columbia Burlesque Wheel, installed him in the box office of the Casino Theater in Brooklyn. Eventually, Abbott began arranging burlesque show tours. However at the age of 15, Abbott was drugged and shanghaied onto a ship bound for Norway, he was eventually able to work his way back to the United States, and on his return moved to Detroit.[3][citation needed]

There in 1918, he met and fell in love with Jenny Mae Pratt, a burlesque dancer and comedienne who performed as Betty Smith, they were to remain together until Abbott's death 55 years later. After they were married in 1918 Abbott and his new wife soon began producing a vaudeville "tab show" called Broadway Flashes, which toured on the Gus Sun Vaudeville Circuit.[5] Around 1924, Abbott began performing as a straight man in a comedy act with Betty. Bud Abbott served as the treasurer and later manager of National Theater throughout the 1920s. As his reputation grew, Abbott began working with veteran comedians like Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson.[6]


Lou Costello and Hollywood[edit]

Abbott crossed paths with Lou Costello in burlesque in the early 1930s. Abbott was producing and performing in Minsky's Burlesque shows, while Costello was a rising comic. They formally teamed up in 1936, due to an illness to Costello's regular partner,[7] and performed together in burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel shows, and cinemas.

In 1938, they first received national exposure by performing on the Kate Smith Hour radio show, which led to their appearance in a Broadway musical, The Streets of Paris. In 1940, Universal signed Abbott and Costello for their first film, One Night in the Tropics. Despite having minor supporting roles, Abbott and Costello stole the film with their classic routines, including an abbreviated version of "Who's On First?"[citation needed]

Abbott on the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1951

During World War II, Abbott and Costello were among the most popular and highest-paid stars in the world.[citation needed] Between 1940 and 1956 they made 36 films, and earned a percentage of the profits on each.[citation needed] They were popular on radio throughout the 1940s, primarily on their own program which ran from 1942 until 1947 on NBC and from 1947 to 1949 on ABC. In the 1950s, they introduced their comedy to live television on The Colgate Comedy Hour, and launched their own half-hour series, The Abbott and Costello Show.

Abbott proved to be very supportive of his relatives. Norman and Betty Abbott, the children of Bud Abbott's twin sister Olive, embarked on show business careers with help from their uncle. (Betty was responsible for continuity on Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Norm directed live television).[citation needed]After Olive's husband abandoned his family (on the pretense of going out for a pack of cigarettes), Abbott stepped in as breadwinner. He changed their surname to Abbott and raised them as his own children[citation needed]. He and his wife also adopted two more children.[citation needed]

Strain and split[edit]

Relations between Abbott and Costello had been strained for years. In their early burlesque days, their contracted salaries were split 60%–40%, favoring Abbott, because the straight man was always viewed as the more valuable member of the team.[citation needed] That was changed to 50%–50% after they became burlesque stars.

However, other accounts indicate that the 60%–40% split was Costello's idea.[citation needed] The statement, "A good straight man is hard to find" is attributed to Costello.[citation needed] On the other hand, it was perceived that the sixty–forty split had long irked Costello.[citation needed] Once Buck Privates made them bona fide movie stars, Costello insisted that the 60%–40% split be reversed in his favor, and it remained so for the remainder of their careers. Costello's additional demand that the team be renamed "Costello and Abbott" was rejected by Universal Studios, resulting in a "permanent chill" between the two partners, according to Lou's daughter Chris Costello in her biography Lou's on First.[citation needed] Their relationship was further strained by Abbott's alcohol abuse, a habit motivated by his desire to combat the effects of epilepsy.[citation needed]

The team's popularity waned in the 1950s, and they were further bedeviled by tax issues; the IRS demanded heavy back taxes, forcing the partners (both of whom had been serious gamblers) to sell most of their assets (including Costello's rights to their television show). They were forced to withdraw from Fireman Save My Child in 1954 due to Costello's health and were replaced by lookalikes Hugh O'Brian and Buddy Hackett, and were dropped by Universal the following year. Abbott and Costello formally dissolved their business relationship in July 1957. Lou Costello died on March 3, 1959.

Later years[edit]

In 1960, Abbott began performing with a new partner, Candy Candido to good reviews. But Abbott called it quits, remarking that "No one could ever live up to Lou." The following year, Abbott performed in a dramatic television episode of General Electric Theater titled "The Joke's On Me". A few years later, Abbott provided his own voice for the Hanna-Barbera animated series The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show, with Stan Irwin providing the voice of Lou Costello.

Personal life[edit]

Abbott's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work on television.

Bud and Betty Abbott were married for 55 years. The couple adopted two children: Bud Jr. in 1942 and Vickie in 1949. Bud Jr. died on January 19, 1997 at the age of 57.

Abbott was an active Freemason and Shriner.[8][9][10] Bud Abbott has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: the radio star is located on 6333 Hollywood Boulevard, the motion pictures star is located on 1611 Vine Street, and the TV star is located on 6740 Hollywood Boulevard.


Abbott suffered from epilepsy throughout his life.[citation needed] In the early 1960s, he suffered the first in a series of strokes.[citation needed] In 1972, he broke his hip.[citation needed] Abbott died of cancer at the age of 78 on April 24, 1974, at his home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles.[11] His wife Betty died on September 12, 1981 at the age of 79.

When Groucho Marx was asked about Abbott shortly after his death, his response was that Abbott was "the greatest straight man ever."[12]

Honors and awards[edit]

There is a common misconception that Abbott and Costello are the only two non-baseball players to have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.[citation needed] In actuality, the comedic duo does not hold membership with the Cooperstown society[13] any more than the sports writers and broadcasters who are acknowledged by separate awards. However, an honoring plaque and a gold record and transcript of the "Who's On First?" sketch has been included in the museum collection since 1956, and the routine runs on an endless loop on televisions at the Hall, making Abbott and Costello among the few non-baseball players or managers to have a memorial in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Abbott received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Acting (posthumously) from the Garden State Film Festival in 2006; it was accepted on his behalf by his daughter Vickie Abbott Wheeler.[citation needed]

Abbott is a 2009 inductee of the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[14]


Year Film Role Notes
1940 One Night in the Tropics Abbott Film Debut
1941 Buck Privates Slicker Smith First Comedy[7]
In the Navy Smoky Adams
Hold That Ghost Chuck Murray
Keep 'Em Flying Blackie Benson
1942 Ride 'Em Cowboy Duke
Rio Rita Doc
Pardon My Sarong Algy Shaw
Who Done It? Chick Larkin
1943 It Ain't Hay Grover Mickridge
Hit The Ice Flash Fulton
1944 In Society Eddie Harrington
Lost in a Harem Peter Johnson
1945 Here Come The Co-Eds Slats McCarthy
The Naughty Nineties Dexter Broadhurst
Abbott and Costello in Hollywood Buzz Kurtis
1946 Little Giant John Morrison/Tom Chandler
The Time of Their Lives Cuthbert/Dr. Greenway
1947 Buck Privates Come Home Slicker Smith Sequel to Buck Privates
The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap Duke Egan
1948 The Noose Hangs High Ted Higgins Also Producer (uncredited)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Chick Young
Mexican Hayride Harry Lambert
10,000 Kids and a Cop Himself Documentary short
1949 Africa Screams Buzz Johnson
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff Casey Edwards
1950 Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion Bud Jones
1951 Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man Bud Alexander
Comin' Round The Mountain Al Stewart
1952 Jack and the Beanstalk Mr. Dinklepuss Also Producer
Lost in Alaska Tom Watson
Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd Rocky Stonebridge Also Executive Producer
1953 Abbott and Costello Go to Mars Lester
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Slim
1955 Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops Harry Pierce
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy Peter Patterson
1956 Dance With Me, Henry Bud Flick
1965 The World of Abbott and Costello - Compilation Film
Year Title Role Notes
1952–1954 The Abbott and Costello Show Bud Abbott 52 Episodes
1961 General Electric Theater Ernie Kauffman Episode: "The Joke's On Me" (04/16/61)
1967–1968 The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show Abbott (Voice) 156 Episodes

As himself[edit]


  1. ^ [1] WW1 Draft Registration, in his own hand, from 1918, at Ancestry.com [subscription[
  2. ^ The year of birth has been reported as 1895, 1896, 1897, and 1898 in different reliable sources. This has been discussed in some depth on this article's talk page. Following are a small selection of references supporting the different values. Oct 2, 1898: William A. Abbott "California Deaths, 1940 - 1997". Family Tree Legends Records Collection (Online Database). Pearl Street Software. 2004–2005. Records for William, Abbot. . Oct 2, 1895: Thomas, Bob (1977), Bud & Lou: the Abbott & Costello story (Google eBook), Lippincott, p. 25, ISBN 978-0-397-01195-7, retrieved March 31, 2011  Oct 6, 1897 and Oct 2, 1895: Nollen, Scott Allen (2009), "New Jersey Boys Make Good" (Google eBook), Abbott and Costello on the Home Front: A Critical Study of the Wartime Films, McFarland, p. 7, ISBN 978-0-7864-3521-0, retrieved March 31, 2011 ; "Abbott, Bud; and Costello, Lou". Encyclopedia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 2010. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
  3. ^ a b http://www.biography.com/people/bud-abbott-20617237
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ Slide, Anthony. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1994, p. 1.
  6. ^ Christopher Lyon, International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers - Volume IV - Actors and Actresses,St. James Press, 1987, p. 7. ISBN 0-912289-08-2. Excerpt: "...while manager at the National Theater in Detroit, Abbott worked vaudeville as straight man to such performers as Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson."
  7. ^ a b "Abbott, Bud; and Costello, Lou". Encyclopedia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 2010. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8. 
  8. ^ Edward L. King. "Famous Masons A-L". Masonicinfo.com. Retrieved January 12, 2010. [unreliable source?]
  9. ^ "Masonic Actors, Musicians and Screen Writers". Phoenixmasonry.org. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  10. ^ Bud, Abbott. "Famous Masons". Masonic List. Satuit Lodge. Retrieved July 29, 2012. 
  11. ^ Bud Abbott dies at 78
  12. ^ Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  13. ^ Baseball Hall of Fame
  14. ^ New Jersey to Bon Jovi: You Give Us a Good Name Yahoo News, February 2, 2009

External links[edit]