Bud Abbott

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Bud Abbott
Bud Abbott in a crop from a promotional photograph for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948.png
William Alexander Abbott

October 2, 1897
DiedApril 24, 1974(1974-04-24) (aged 76)
OccupationActor, comedian, producer
Years active1935–1967
Betty Smith (m. 1918)

William Alexander "Bud" Abbott (October 2, 1897[a] – April 24, 1974) was an American comedian, actor and straight man half of the comedy duo Abbott and Costello.

Groucho Marx declared Abbott "the greatest straight man ever."

Early life[edit]

Abbott was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey on October 2, 1897 into a show business family.[1][2] His parents, Rae Fisher and Harry Abbott, had worked for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. She was a bareback rider and he was a concessionaire and forage agent.[1] When Bud was a child his father became a longtime advance man for the Columbia Burlesque Wheel and the family relocated to Harlem, then the Coney Island section of Brooklyn.[1] Abbott dropped out of grammar school and began working summers with his father at Dreamland Park in Coney Island.[3] When he was 15, Abbott signed on as a cabin boy on a Norwegian steamer but was soon forced to shovel coal. He worked his way back to the United States a year later.[4]

As a teenager Abbott began working in the box office of the Casino Theater in Brooklyn.[1] He spent the next few years in burlesque box offices, rising to treasurer. In 1918, while working in Washington, D.C., he met and married Jenny Mae Pratt, a burlesque dancer and comedian 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 small-time Gus Sun circuit.[1] Abbott began performing as a straight man in the show when he could no longer afford to pay one.[1] 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.[1] Abbott suffered from epilepsy starting from about 1926.[5] In 1964, he suffered the first in a series of strokes.[1]


Lou Costello and Hollywood[edit]

Abbott crossed paths with Lou Costello 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 stock burlesque in 1935 at the Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street, after an illness sidelined Costello's regular partner.[1] They formally teamed up in 1936, and performed together in burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel shows, and stage shows.[4]

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 1939. 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?"[1] Universal signed the team to a two-picture deal, and the first film, Buck Privates (1941), became a major hit and led to a long-term contract with the studio.

It was directed by Arthur Lubin who later said "I don't think there has ever been a finer straight man in the business than Bud Abbott. Lou would go off the script - because he was that clever with lines - and Bud would bring him right back."[6]

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.[1] They were among the Top 10 box office stars from 1941 through 1951, and placed No. 1 in 1942. They also had their own radio program (The Abbott and Costello Show) throughout the 1940s, first on NBC from 1942 to 1947, and from 1947 to 1949 on ABC. During a 35-day tour in the summer of 1942, the team sold $85 million worth of War Bonds.

In the 1950s, they introduced their comedy to live television on The Colgate Comedy Hour, and launched their own half-hour filmed series, The Abbott and Costello Show.

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 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 the IRS demanded substantial 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. When the team's long-term contract with Universal was up in 1954, they demanded more money than the studio was willing to pay, and they were dropped.[1]

In November 1956, Lou was the subject of the Ralph Edwards-produced TV show, “This Is Your Life.” This was just before the team opened in Las Vegas for what would be their last engagement as a team.

Abbott and Costello split in 1957.[7] Costello made solo appearances on several TV shows and did one film, "The Thirty-Foot Bride of Candy Rock" (released posthumously in 1959.) Lou died on March 3, 1959.

Later years[edit]

Abbott faced financial difficulties in the late 1950s when the IRS disallowed $500,000 in tax exemptions which forced him to sell his home and come out of semi-retirement.[8]

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". In 1966, 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 in television

Bud and Betty Abbott were married for 55 years. The couple adopted two children: Bud Jr. (born August 23, 1939) in 1942 and Vickie in 1949. Bud Jr. died on January 19, 1997, at age 57.[9]

Norman and Betty Abbott, the children of Bud's older sister, Olive, started their careers in Hollywood working behind the scenes on the Abbott and Costello films. Betty became Blake Edwards' longtime script supervisor, and Norman directed episodes of many television series, including Leave It to Beaver, The Jack Benny Program, Sanford and Son and Welcome Back, Kotter.

Bud has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: the radio star is located at 6333 Hollywood Boulevard, the motion pictures star is located at 1611 Vine Street, and the television star is located at 6740 Hollywood Boulevard.[10]


Abbott died of cancer at age 76 on April 24, 1974, at his home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles.[4][11] He was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean. His widow, Betty, died on September 12, 1981.

When Groucho Marx was asked about Abbott shortly after his death, his response was that Abbott was "the greatest straight man ever."[1]

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.[12]

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

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.[13]


Year Film Role Notes
1940 One Night in the Tropics Abbott Film Debut
1941 Buck Privates Slicker Smith First Comedy[14]
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
1951-1954 The Colgate Comedy Hour Host Multiple episodes
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. ^ The year of birth has been reported as 1895, 1896, 1897, and 1898 in different sources. The 1895 date was perpetuated by sources copying from earlier sources. His birth certificate and World War I draft card both use "October 2, 1897".


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  2. ^ The year of birth has been reported as 1895, 1896, 1897, and 1898 in different sources. The 1895 date was perpetuated by sources copying from earlier sources. His birth certificate and World War I draft card both use "October 2, 1897".
  3. ^ Immerso, Michael (2002). Coney Island: The People's Playground. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813531381.
  4. ^ a b c "Bud Abbott, Straight Man To Lou Costello, Is Dead". The New York Times. April 25, 1974.
  5. ^ Thomas, Bob (1977). "Bud and Lou: the Abbott and Costello Story." Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott. ISBN 0-397-01195-4
  6. ^ Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (1975). "Arthur Lubin". In Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (eds.). Kings of the Bs : working within the Hollywood system : an anthology of film history and criticism. E. P. Dutton. p. 367.
  7. ^ "Abbott, Costello Split. Comedy Team Breaks Up to Let Abbott Raise Horses". The New York Times. United Press International. July 15, 1957.
  8. ^ "Bud Abbott Preps New Act with Eddie Foy Jr". Variety. June 17, 1959. p. 2. Retrieved June 15, 2019 – via Archive.org.
  9. ^ "Bud Abbott Jr". Variety. February 5, 1997. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  10. ^ "Hollywood Walk of Fame - Bud Abbott". walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
  11. ^ "The Glasgow Herald - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  12. ^ Dunning, J. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford Univ. Press (1998), pp. 2-3. ISBN 0-19-507678-8
  13. ^ New Jersey to Bon Jovi: You Give Us a Good Name Yahoo News, February 2, 2009
  14. ^ "Abbott, Bud; and Costello, Lou". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2010. pp. 13. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.

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