Lou Costello

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Lou Costello
Lou Costello in Africa Screams.jpg
Costello in Africa Screams (1949)
Born
Louis Francis Cristillo

(1906-03-06)March 6, 1906
DiedMarch 3, 1959(1959-03-03) (aged 52)
Resting placeCalvary Cemetery (Los Angeles)
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1926–1959
Spouse
Anne Battler
(m. 1934)
[1][2]
Children4
Parent(s)Sebastiano Cristillo and Helen Rege[3]
FamilyPat Costello (brother)

Louis Francis Cristillo (March 6, 1906 – March 3, 1959), professionally known as Lou Costello, was an American comedian, actor and producer. He was best known for his double act with straight man Bud Abbott and their routine "Who's on First?".

The comedians, who teamed in burlesque in 1936, were among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world during World War II. During a national tour in 1942, they sold $85 million in war bonds in 35 days. By 1955, their popularity waned from overexposure, and their film and television contracts lapsed. Their partnership ended in 1957.

Early life[edit]

Louis Francis Cristillo was born on March 6, 1906, in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of Helen Rege and Sebastiano Cristillo, a silk weaver and insurance sales agent.[3][4] His father was Italian, from Caserta[5] in Campania, Italy, and his mother was an American of Italian, French and Irish ancestry (her grandfather was Francesco Rege from Piedmont, Italy).[5] Costello attended Public School 15[6] in Paterson and was considered a gifted athlete. He excelled in basketball and reportedly was twice Paterson's free-throw champion[citation needed]. His basketball prowess can be seen in Here Come the Co-Eds (1945), in which he performs his own trick basketball shots. He also fought as a boxer under the name of Lou King.[7]

Career[edit]

Costello was a great admirer of silent-film comedian Charlie Chaplin. In 1927, Costello hitchhiked to Hollywood to become an actor, but could only find work as a laborer or extra at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Hal Roach Studios. His athletic skill brought him occasional work as a stunt man, notably in The Trail of '98 (1928). He can also be spotted sitting ringside in the Laurel and Hardy film The Battle of the Century (1927).[8] He said that he took his professional name from actress Helene Costello,[9] although by this time his brother Anthony (Pat) had used the name in his career as a professional musician.[10]

Burlesque and Bud Abbott[edit]

In 1928, with the advent of talking pictures, Costello headed back east intending to acquire theatrical experience. Stranded in St. Joseph, Missouri, he persuaded a local burlesque producer to hire him as a Dutch comic (Dutch meaning "German" in this context, Costello performed with a German accent). By the end of the year, he was back in New Jersey. He began working in burlesque on the Mutual Burlesque wheel the following year.[10]

After the Mutual Wheel collapsed during the Great Depression, Costello worked for several stock burlesque impresarios, including the Minskys, where he crossed paths with talented producer and straight man Bud Abbott.[10] They first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City after Costello's straight man fell ill. They formally teamed in 1936.[10]

Radio and Hollywood[edit]

Abbott and Costello were signed by the William Morris talent agency, which landed them featured roles and national exposure on The Kate Smith Hour, a popular radio variety show, in 1938.[10] The team's signature routine, "Who's on First?", made its radio debut on Smith's show early that year. Many of the team's sketches were further polished by John Grant, who was hired soon after the team joined the program.[10] Their success on the Smith show led to their appearance in a Broadway musical in 1939, The Streets of Paris.

Abbott and Costello were hosting a summer replacement series for The Fred Allen Show in 1940 when they were signed by Universal Pictures for supporting roles in One Night in the Tropics (1940). They stole the film with their classic routines, including a shortened version of "Who's On First?" (the complete version was performed in The Naughty Nineties, released in 1945). The team's breakthrough picture was Buck Privates, released early in 1941. Three more films followed in 1941, and they were voted the No. 3 box-office stars that year.[10]

That year they became regulars on Edgar Bergen's The Chase and Sanborn Program, and in October 1942 launched their own series, The Abbott and Costello Show on NBC. The show ran on NBC through the spring of 1947, then ABC through the spring of 1949.[10][11][12]

Fame and tragedy[edit]

Abbott and Costello appeared in 36 films from 1940 to 1956 and were among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world during World War II. Among their most popular films are Buck Privates, Hold That Ghost, Who Done It?, Pardon My Sarong, The Time of Their Lives, Buck Privates Come Home, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.[citation needed]

In the summer of 1942, Abbott and Costello embarked on a 35-day cross-country tour to promote and sell war bonds. The Treasury Department credited them with the sale of $85 million in bonds.[10]

In March 1943, after completing a winter tour of army bases, Costello suffered an attack of rheumatic fever and was unable to work for six months. On November 4 of that year, he returned to the team's popular radio show, but while rehearsing at their NBC studio, Costello received word that his infant son Lou Jr. had accidentally drowned in the family pool.[10] Unnoticed by the nanny, the baby had worked loose the slats in his playpen and fell into the pool.[13] The baby was just two days short of his first birthday. Costello had asked his wife to keep Lou Jr. up to hear his father on the radio for the first time. Rather than cancel the broadcast, Costello said, "Wherever he is tonight, I want him to hear me," and proceeded with the show. No one in the audience knew of the death until after the show, when Bud Abbott explained the sad events of the day and how Costello epitomized the phrase "the show must go on" that night. Maxene Andrews of the Andrews Sisters said that Costello's demeanor changed after the loss of his son: "He didn't seem as fun-loving and as warm... He seemed to anger easily... there was a difference in his attitude."[14]

As their careers grew more successful, serious cracks began to appear in Abbott and Costello's relationship. Reportedly their first disagreement occurred in 1936 over a booking in a minstrel show at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Costello wanted to accept the gig, which was outside their usual burlesque venues, but Abbott was hesitant. Costello offered Abbott a larger split of their salary, and Abbott agreed. At the end of 1941, Costello insisted that the team split their income 60/40 in Costello's favor, and Abbott agreed.[10]

In 1945, when Costello fired a maid and Abbott hired her, Costello announced that he would no longer work with Abbott.[15] However, they remained under contract to Universal and were required to complete two films in 1946, which became Little Giant and The Time of Their Lives. The two men did not appear together much in either film and rarely spoke to one another off-camera.[16][citation needed] Abbott attempted to heal their relationship by suggesting that the foundation that they had founded for rheumatic fever sufferers be named the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Foundation, which touched Costello deeply. The youth foundation still exists in Los Angeles.[10]

Their radio program moved to ABC (the former NBC Blue Network) from 1947 to 1949 and was prerecorded.[citation needed]

In 1951, the duo began to appear on live television, joining the rotating hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour. (Eddie Cantor, Martin and Lewis and Bob Hope were among the others). The following year their filmed situation comedy The Abbott and Costello Show began running in syndication nationwide. Costello owned the half-hour series, with Abbott working on salary. The show, which was loosely adapted from their radio program and films, ran for two seasons from 1952 to 1954 but found long life in syndicated reruns.[10]

Lou Costello being surprised on This Is Your Life

Abbott and Costello were forced to withdraw from Fireman Save My Child in 1954 after Costello suffered a relapse of rheumatic fever. They were replaced by studio contract players Hugh O'Brian and Buddy Hackett.

Costello was surprised and honored by Ralph Edwards on NBC's This Is Your Life in 1956.[17]

Abbott and Costello split[edit]

By the mid-1950s, Abbott and Costello no longer ranked among the top box-office stars. They were undermined by overexposure in concurrent film and television appearances, and were eclipsed by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who were as popular in the 1950s as Abbott and Costello had been a decade earlier. In 1955 the team could not reach a contract agreement with Universal and left the studio after 15 years.[10]

In the early 1950s, troubles with the Internal Revenue Service forced both men to sell their large homes and the rights to some of their films. Abbott and Costello's final film together, Dance with Me, Henry (1956), was a box-office disappointment and received mixed critical reviews.[according to whom?]

Abbott and Costello dissolved their partnership amicably early in 1957.[18] Costello worked with other comedians, including Sidney Fields in Las Vegas, and sought film and television projects. He appeared several times on Steve Allen's The Tonight Show, most often performing his old routines with Louis Nye or Tom Poston in the straight-man role. In 1958, he played a dramatic role on The Tobias Jones Story episode of Wagon Train.[19]

Death[edit]

The crypts of Lou Costello and his wife Anne

Shortly after completion of The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, his only film after the partnership with Abbott ended, Costello suffered a heart attack. He died at Doctors Hospital in Beverly Hills on March 3, 1959, three days before his 53rd birthday.[3] Sources conflict on the circumstances of his last day and final words. According to some accounts, he told visitors that the strawberry ice cream soda that he had just finished was "the best I ever tasted" and then died.[20] By other reports, including those of several contemporaneous obituaries, the ice-cream soda exchange occurred earlier in the day; later, after his wife and friends had departed, he asked his nurse to adjust his position in bed just before suffering a fatal cardiac arrest.[3][21][22][23]

After a funeral Mass at his Catholic parish, St. Francis de Sales in Sherman Oaks,[24] Costello was interred at the Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles on March 8.[25] His wife Anne died from an apparent heart attack nine months later on December 5, 1959, at age 47.[26][27]

Family[edit]

On January 30, 1934, Costello married Anne Battler, a burlesque chorus dancer. Their first child, Patricia "Paddy" Costello, was born in 1936,[28][29] followed by Carole on December 23, 1938, and Lou Jr. (nicknamed "Butch") on November 6, 1942.[30][31] On August 15, 1947, their last child Christine was born.[32][33]

Costello's older brother Pat Costello was a musician who led his own band before moving to Hollywood, where he was enlisted to perform stunts in Lou's place in the first ten Abbott and Costello films. He later appeared in a supporting role in Mexican Hayride (1948).[10]

Costello's sister Marie Katherine Cristillo (1912–1988) was married to actor Joe Kirk (Nat Curcuruto), who portrayed Mr. Bacciagalupe on the Abbott and Costello radio and television shows [34] and appeared in supporting roles in several of the team's films.[10]

Costello's daughter Carole appeared in uncredited baby roles in a few Abbott and Costello films. She would later become a contestant coordinator for the game show Card Sharks as well as a nightclub singer. She died of a stroke on March 29, 1987 at age 48 while married to Craig Martin, eldest son of Dean Martin.[35] Carole's daughter Marki Costello is an actress, director and producer in film and television.[36]

Costello's daughter Chris published a biography titled Lou's on First in 1981.[37]

Memorials[edit]

The Lou Costello statue in Paterson, New Jersey

In 1946, Costello was joined by Abbott to fund the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Foundation, a 3.3-acre recreation center on Olympic Blvd. in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles. Opened on May 3, 1947, it included a baseball field and swimming pool. In 1951 the center was sold to the city for less than one-third of its cost, and the name was changed to the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Recreation Center.[38][39]

On June 26, 1992, the city of Paterson, New Jersey, in conjunction with the Lou Costello Memorial Association, erected a statue of Costello in the newly named Lou Costello Memorial Park in the city's historic downtown section. It shows Costello holding a baseball bat, a reference to the team's most famous routine, "Who's on First?". The statue has been shown in two episodes of The Sopranos and in the film Paterson (2016). In 2005, Madison Street, in the Sandy Hill section of Paterson where Costello was born,[40] was renamed Lou Costello Place.[41]

The centennial of Costello's birth was celebrated in Paterson in March 2006. From June 24 to 26, 2006, the Fort Lee Film Commission held a centennial film retrospective at the Fine Arts Theatre in Hollywood. Films screened included the premiere of a digital film produced by the teenagers of the present-day Lou Costello Jr. Recreation Center in East Los Angeles. Also premiered was a 35 mm restored print of the Costello-produced 1948 short film 10,000 Kids and a Cop, which was shot at the Lou Costello, Jr. Youth Center in East Los Angeles.[31]

In 2009, Costello was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[42]

Abbott and Costello are among the few non-baseball personnel to be memorialized in the Baseball Hall of Fame, although they are not formal inductees. A plaque and a gold record of the "Who's on First?" sketch have been on permanent display there since 1956, and a video of the routine loops endlessly in the exhibit area.[43]

Radio[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1938–1940 The Kate Smith Hour Costello
1940–1949 The Abbott and Costello Show
1947–1949 The Abbott and Costello Children's Show

Filmography[edit]

Year Film Role Notes
1927 The Battle of the Century Ringside Extra[8]
The Taxi Dancer Extra[citation needed]
The Fair Co-Ed Extra[citation needed]
1928 Rose-Marie Extra[citation needed]
Circus Rookies Extra[citation needed]
The Cossacks Extra[citation needed]
The Trail of '98 Stunt Double and Extra[44]
1940 One Night in the Tropics Costello Film debut of Abbott and Costello
1941 Buck Privates Herbie Brown
In the Navy Pomeroy Watson
Hold That Ghost Ferdinand Jones
Keep 'Em Flying Heathcliffe
1942 Ride 'Em Cowboy Willoughby
Rio Rita Wishy Dunn
Pardon My Sarong Wellington Phlug
Who Done It? Mervyn Milgrim
1943 It Ain't Hay Wilbur Hoolihan
Hit The Ice Tubby McCoy
1944 In Society Albert Mansfield
Lost in a Harem Harvey Garvey
1945 Here Come the Co-Eds Oliver Quackenbush
The Naughty Nineties Sebastian Dinwiddie
Abbott and Costello in Hollywood Abercrombie
1946 Little Giant Benny Miller
The Time of Their Lives Horatio Prim
1947 Buck Privates Come Home Herbie Brown Sequel to Buck Privates
The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap Chester Wooley
1948 The Noose Hangs High Tommy Hinchcliffe
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Wilbur Gray
Mexican Hayride Joe Bascom/Humphrey Fish
10,000 Kids and a Cop Himself Documentary short
1949 Africa Screams Stanley Livingston
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff Freddie Phillips
1950 Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion Lou Hotchkiss
1951 Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man Lou Francis
Comin' Round the Mountain Wilbert Smith
1952 Jack and the Beanstalk Jack In color; producer
Lost in Alaska George Bell
Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd Oliver "Puddin' Head" Johnson In color
1953 Abbott and Costello Go to Mars Orville
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Tubby
1955 Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops Willie Piper
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy Freddie Franklin
1956 Dance with Me, Henry Lou Henry
1959 The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock Artie Pinsetter Only starring film without Abbott
1965 The World of Abbott and Costello Compilation film

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1951–1955 The Colgate Comedy Hour Costello Rotating hosts
1952–1954 The Abbott and Costello Show 52 episodes
1956–1958 The Steve Allen Show Himself 7 episodes
1956 This Is Your Life
1957 I've Got a Secret
1958 General Electric Theater Neal Andrews episode: Blaze of Glory
Wagon Train Tobias Jones episode: The Tobias Jones Story

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Star Dust". The Mirror. Vol. 32, no. 1758. Western Australia. February 5, 1955. p. 13. Retrieved August 12, 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  2. ^ "Films: LAST OF THE GREAT COMEDY TEAMS". The World's News. No. 2571. New South Wales, Australia. March 31, 1951. p. 20. Retrieved August 12, 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ a b c d "Lou Costello, 52, Dies on Coast. Comic Had Teamed With Abbott. 'Little Guy Trying to Be a Big Shot' in Films and on TV-Partners Broke Up in '57". The New York Times. March 4, 1959.
  4. ^ Deutsch, James I. (2000). "Abbott and Costello". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1801932. Retrieved August 22, 2022. He was the son of Sebastian Cristillo, an Italian-born silk weaver and insurance sales agent, and Helen Rege.
  5. ^ a b Costello, Chris and Raymond Strait."Lou's On First." New York: St. Martin's Press.
  6. ^ "Public School #15". paterson.k12.nj.us. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  7. ^ C. Costello (1981), p. 7.
  8. ^ a b "Laurel & Hardy Films | Stills". laurelandhardyfilms.com. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  9. ^ Smith, Jr., EW (2009). Athletes Once: 100 Famous People Who Were Once Notable Athletes. Cortero. ISBN 9781611790689.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  11. ^ Sies, Luther F. (2014). Encyclopedia of American Radio, 1920-1960, 2nd Edition. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-5149-4. P. 10.
  12. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved August 20, 2019. The Abbott and Costello Show, comedy.
  13. ^ Sherman, Eddie (Lou's manager) interviewed on the program This is Your Life, NBC TV, presented by Ralph Edwards, 1956 (16:08), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWpEOXvnOmA, accessed January 20, 2014
  14. ^ Sforza, John: Swing It! The Andrews Sisters Story; University Press of Kentucky, 2000; 289 pages.
  15. ^ C. Costello (1961), pp. 119–120.
  16. ^ C. Costello (1961), p. 120.
  17. ^ http://www.encyclopedia.com/.../c8v0xBFJMOI-this-is-your-life-lou.aspx[dead link]
  18. ^ "Abbott, Costello Split. Comedy Team Breaks Up to Let Abbott Raise Horses". The New York Times. United Press International. July 15, 1957.
  19. ^ Fitzgerald, Mike. "Beverly Washburn Interview". Western Clippings.com. Mike Fitzgerald. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  20. ^ "dying words". corsinet.com. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  21. ^ "Death Takes Lou Costello". The Milwaukee Journal. March 4, 1959. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  22. ^ Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1959.
  23. ^ Los Angeles Evening Mirror News, March 4, 1959.
  24. ^ "Lou Costello". Los Angeles Times.
  25. ^ "Costello Rites Held. Comedian Mourned by 400 at Requiem Mass on Coast". The New York Times. March 7, 1959.
  26. ^ "Lou Costello's Widow Passes". Sunday Herald. December 6, 1959. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  27. ^ "Mrs. Lou Costello, 47. Widow of Movie Comedian is Dead in California". The New York Times. United Press International. December 6, 1959.
  28. ^ "LOU COSTELLO'S DAUGHTER WEDS". The Barrier Miner. Vol. LXVI, no. 17, 558. New South Wales, Australia. November 11, 1953. p. 12. Retrieved August 12, 2017 – via National Library of Australia., ...Patricia Anne Costello, 17, daughter of Abbott's comedy partner Lou Costello, after her marriage in California last week to James Cardinet....
  29. ^ "GRANDFATHER". Cootamundra Herald. New South Wales, Australia. June 4, 1954. p. 1. Retrieved August 12, 2017 – via National Library of Australia., SANTA MONICA, THURSDAY—Film comedian Lou Costello is now a grandfather with the birth of a boy yesterday to his daughter, Patricia Cardinet....
  30. ^ "Lou Costello Broadcasts After Son's Death". The Advertiser. Vol. LXXXVI, no. 26549. Adelaide. November 6, 1943. p. 5. Retrieved August 12, 2017 – via National Library of Australia., The one-year-old son of comedian Lou Costello fell into the family swimming pool and was drowned this afternoon....
  31. ^ a b "Mrs. Lou Costello Fatally Stricken". Reading Eagle. December 6, 1959. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  32. ^ "Gossip Of Stars". Sunday Times (Perth). No. 5284. Western Australia. August 31, 1947. p. 12 (SUPPLEMENT TO THE SUNDAY TIMES). Retrieved August 12, 2017 – via National Library of Australia., Mrs. Lou Costello has just given birth to a baby girl. This is her third daughter. It is to be named Christine, after Lou's father....
  33. ^ "Daughter to Lou Costellos". The New York Times. August 14, 1947.
  34. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Joe Kirk: Biography". AllMovie. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
  35. ^ "Carole Costello, 48, Comic's Daughter, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. April 3, 1987. Retrieved March 27, 2016.
  36. ^ "Marki Costello". Metacritic. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  37. ^ Costello, C. Lou's on First: A Biography: The tragic life of Hollywood's greatest clown warmly recounted by his youngest child. St. Martin's Press (1981). ISBN 0312499132
  38. ^ Krell, David. "Lou Costello". Society for American Baseball Research. ASU Cronkite School of Journalism. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  39. ^ "Lou Costello Recreation and Senior Center (Los Angeles, California)". Wikimapia. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  40. ^ Lenox, Steve. "Work Underway at Autism Friendly Lou Costello Park". Tap into Paterson. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  41. ^ Domino, David. "Lou's On First". La Gazzetta Italiana. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  42. ^ Bon Jovi, Shaq, Abbott and Costello make N.J. Hall of Fame, The Star-Ledger, February 2, 2009. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  43. ^ Dunning, J. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford Univ. Press (1998), pp. 2–3. ISBN 0-19-507678-8
  44. ^ Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo. "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood." Perigee, 1990.

External links[edit]