Bud Abbott

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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 1924–1967
Spouse(s) Betty Smith (m. 1918–74)

William Alexander Abbott (October 2, 1897 – April 24, 1974), known professionally as Bud Abbott, 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, had worked for the Barnum and Bailey Circus.[3][4] Several years after the family relocated to Brooklyn, Abbott dropped out of grammar school to begin working with his father at Dreamland Park on Coney Island. When he was 15, Abbott signed on as a cabin boy on a Norwegian steamer, but was soon forced to shovel coal. He eventually worked his way back to the United States after a year.

By then his father was an employee of the Columbia Burlesque Wheel, and installed Bud in the box office of the Casino Theater in Brooklyn. Bud spent the next few years in burlesque box offices. In 1918, working in Washington D.C., he met and married Jenny Mae Pratt, a burlesque dancer and comedienne who performed as Betty Smith. They remained together until his death 55 years later. In 1923 Abbott produced a cut-rate vaudeville "tab show" called Broadway Flashes, which toured on the Gus Sun circuit.[5] Abbott began performing as a straight man in the show when he could no longer afford to pay one. He continued producing and performing in burlesque shows on the Mutual Burlesque wheel, and as his reputation grew, he 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 a few times in the early 1930s when Abbott was producing and performing in Minsky's Burlesque shows and Costello was a rising comic. They first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Theater on 42nd Street, after an illness sidelined Costello's regular partner.[7] They formally teamed up in 1936, and went on to perform together in burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel shows, and stage shows.

In 1938, they received national exposure as regulars on the Kate Smith Hour radio show, which led to roles in a Broadway musical, The Streets of Paris. In 1940, Universal signed the team for their first film, One Night in the Tropics. Despite having minor roles, Abbott and Costello stole the film with several classic routines, including an abbreviated version of "Who's On First?"[8]

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. Between 1940 and 1956 they made 36 films and earned a percentage of the profits on each.[9] They were popular on radio throughout the 1940s, first on NBC from 1942 to 1947, 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 was very supportive of his relatives. Norman and Betty Abbott, the children of Bud's older sister, Olive, started their careers working behind the scenes on Abbott and Costello films. Betty became Blake Edwards' longtime script supervisor, and Norman directed many television sitcoms, including the Jack Benny Show and Sanford and Son.

Strain and split[edit]

Relations between Abbott and Costello were strained by egos and salary disputes. In their burlesque days, they split their earnings 60%–40%, favoring Abbott, because the straight man was always viewed as the more valuable member of the team. This was eventually changed to 50%–50%, but after a year in Hollywood, Costello insisted on a 60%–40% split in his favor, and it remained so for the remainder of their careers. Costello's also demanded that the team be renamed "Costello and Abbott," but this 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. Their relationship was further strained by Abbott's alcohol abuse, a habit motivated by his desire to stave off epileptic seizures.

The team's popularity waned in the 1950s, and they were bedeviled by tax issues; the IRS demanded heavy back taxes, forcing the partners (both of whom had been free spenders and serious gamblers) to sell most of their assets, including the rights to many of their films. Universal dropped their contract after 14 years in 1955. Abbott and Costello split in 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.[10][11][12] 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 starting from about 1926.[13] In 1964, he suffered the first in a series of strokes.[14] In 1972, he broke his hip.[citation needed] Abbott died of cancer at the age of 76 on April 24, 1974, at his home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles.[15] 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."[16]

Honors and awards[edit]

Abbott and Costello are among the few non-baseball personnel to be memorialized in the Baseball Hall of Fame, although they are not inductees of the Hall itself. A plaque and a gold record of the "Who's On First?" sketch have been on permanent display there since 1956, and the routine runs on an endless video loop in the exhibit area.[17]

Abbott and Costello each have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their work on radio, television and in films.

In 1942 they were voted the country's No. 1 Box Office Stars by exhibitors.

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.[18]


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) 39 Episodes, 156 segments

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 sources. This has been discussed in some depth on this article's talk page. The 1895 date was perpetuated by sources copying from earlier sources. After Abbott's birth certificate, Census data, and World War I draft card became available online, 1897 became the most credible date.
  3. ^ "http://www.biography.com/people/bud-abbott-20617237". biography.com. Retrieved November 15, 2014. 
  4. ^ Parish, J.R.; Leonard, W.T. (1979). The funsters. Arlington House. ISBN 9780870004186. Retrieved November 15, 2014. 
  5. ^ Slide, Anthony. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1994, p. 1.
  6. ^ Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  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. ^ Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  9. ^ Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  10. ^ Edward L. King. "Famous Masons A-L". Masonicinfo.com. Retrieved January 12, 2010. [unreliable source?]
  11. ^ "Masonic Actors, Musicians and Screen Writers". Phoenixmasonry.org. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  12. ^ Bud, Abbott. "Famous Masons". Masonic List. Satuit Lodge. Retrieved July 29, 2012. 
  13. ^ Thomas, Bob (1977). "Bud and Lou: the Abbott and Costello Story." Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott. ISBN 0-397-01195-4
  14. ^ Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  15. ^ Bud Abbott dies at 78
  16. ^ Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  17. ^ Dunning, J. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford Univ. Press (1998), pp. 2-3. ISBN 0-19-507678-8
  18. ^ New Jersey to Bon Jovi: You Give Us a Good Name Yahoo News, February 2, 2009

External links[edit]