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Louis Francis "Lou" Costello (March 6, 1906 – March 3, 1959) was an American actor and comedian best known as half of the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, with Bud Abbott. Costello was famous for his bumbling, chubby, clean-cut image that has appealed to many Americans over the decades, and for his famous shouted line of "HEEEEYYY ABBOTT!!."

Early years

Lou Costello was born as Louis Francis Cristillo in Paterson, New Jerseymarker to an Italian father from Calabria and a mother of French and Irish ancestry. A gifted athlete, he excelled in basketball and reportedly was once the New Jersey State Foul Shot champion. (His singular basketball prowess can be seen on film, in Here Come The Co-Eds (1945), in which Lou performs all his own tricky hoop shots without special effects.) He also fought as a boxer under the name "Lou King." He changed his professional name to Costello from actress Helene Costello. "There was a girl named Helene Costello, and I took her name".

In 1927 went to Hollywood to become an actor, but he could only find work as a laborer or extra at MGM and Warner Brothers. His athletic skill brought him occasional work as a stunt man, notably in The Trail of '98, (1927). He can also be spotted sitting ringside in the Laurel and Hardy film The Battle of the Century (1927).

Burlesque and Bud Abbott

Discouraged by his lack of success, in 1930 he hitchhiked back home but ran out of money in Saint Joseph, Missouri, during the Great Depression. He took a job as a Dutch-accented comic at a local burlesque theater. Changing his name to "Costello," he went back to New York and began working in vaudeville theater and burlesque there.

Unlike many burlesque comics of the era, Costello did not use "off-color" material – a trait that continued for the rest of his career.

While working at vaudeville theaters in the 1930s, Costello became acquainted with a talented straight man named Bud Abbott. After working together sporadically, Abbott and Costello formally teamed up in 1936. They performed together in burlesque shows, minstrel shows, vaudeville and movie houses.

Radio and Hollywood

Abbott and Costello signed up with the William Morris Agency, which sought to enlarge the duo's stature by putting them on the radio.

In 1938 they received national exposure for the first time by becoming featured performers on "The Kate Smith Hour," a popular variety show. They were hugely successful, and that ultimately led to their appearance in a Broadway play and signing with Universal Studios in 1940.

They filled supporting roles in their first film, One Night in the Tropics (1940), but stole the film with their classic routines, including a much-shortened version of "Who's On First?". (A more complete version was given in The Naughty Nineties, released in 1945.) The duo became famous for that routine, in which Abbott enumerated the names of a mythical baseball team, whose members have last names of "Who" who plays first base, "What" on second base and "I don't know" on third which Bud never addresses as Mr. What and so forth which confounds Costello when addressed simply as "Who", "What" and "I don't know". This sketch made Abbott and Costello, among other things, to be recognized by, but not made members of, the Baseball Hall of Famemarker with a plaque, gold record and transcript of this famous sketch included in the museum collection, over their lessor known and more sadistic "Ninth Inning Steal" routine whereby Bud and Lou would rob an unsuspecting person by distracting them with a sensational Baseball game recounting, unaware that someone else has already robbed the intended target using the same distraction. A modified version of the "Ninth Inning Steal" is shown in the movie "Pardon My Sarong" when bus drivers Bud and Lou try to steal gas from a gas station attendant.

The team's breakout picture, however, was Buck Privates which was released early in 1941. They immediately became the top-ranking comedy stars in Hollywood and fans looked forward to each of their pictures as a major event. Costello's child-like demeanor was strictly acting, and he aggressively battled with the more easy-going Abbott as well as the studio. Universal upped the duo's salary, but refused Costello's demand to reversethe billing, saying that it had hired Abbott and Costello, not Costello and Abbott. Most movie-goers had never seen the duo's burlesque routines, and so their dated but hilarious material seemed fresh. Many of their films cast them as bumbling servicemen such as In The Navy and Keep 'Em Flying. An amusing footnote to this is that the Japanese military showed these films to Japanese soldiers to demonstrate how inept American soldiers were.

Stardom

The duo made 36 films between 1940 and 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.

The team also appeared on radio throughout the 1940s. On October 8, 1942 the team launched their own weekly show on NBC sponsored by Camel cigarettes. They moved to ABC (the former NBC Blue Network) from 1947-49.

In 1951, the twosome became one of the rotating hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour (Eddie Cantor and Bob Hope were among the others) and then, the following year, inaugurated their own situation comedy, The Abbott and Costello Show. Costello owned the half-hour series, with Abbott working on salary. The show, which was loosely adapted from their radio program, ran two seasons, from 1952 to 1954, but found a new life in syndicated rerun broadcast.

Family and death of son

On January 30, 1934, Costello married Anne Battler, a burlesque dancer. Their first child, Patricia "Paddy" Costello was born in 1936, followed by Carole on December 23, 1938 and Lou Jr. (nicknamed "Butch") on November 6, 1942.

In March 1943, after completing the film "Hit The Ice", Costello had an attack of rheumatic fever and was unable to work for six months. Later that year on November 4, he returned to the team's popular radio show, but a tragic event shadowed his comeback. Upon arriving at the NBC studio, Lou received word that his infant son Lou Jr. had accidentally drowned in the family pool. The baby was just two days short of his first birthday. Lou had asked his wife to keep Butch up that night so the boy could hear his Dad on the radio for the first time. Rather than cancel the broadcast, Lou said, "Wherever he is tonight, I want him to hear me," and went on with the show. No one in the audience knew of the death until after the show when Bud Abbott explained the events of the day, and how the phrase "The show must go on" had been epitomized by Lou that night.

In 1947, their last child, Christine, was born.

Split up

Abbott and Costello split up in July 1957, after troubles with the Internal Revenue Service that forced both men to sell off their large homes and the rights to some of their films. Costello then pursued a solo stand-up career, including stints in Las Vegasmarker, and sought out film projects for himself. He appeared several times on Steve Allen's television show, but most often in variations of his old routines, with Louis Nye or Tom Poston taking on the straight man role.

Death

The crypts of Lou Costello and his wife Anne.
After making one solo film, The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, Costello died of a heart attack on March 3, 1959, four days before his 53rd birthday. He is interred at the Calvary Cemeterymarker in East Los Angeles, Californiamarker. His last words as reported in the March 4, 1959 Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Evening Mirror News were "I think I'll be more comfortable," according to a private nurse who was the only person in the room with him at the time. The widely reported claim that he died in the presence of friends and that his last words were actually "that was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted" appears to have been fabricated some time after the event, possibly as a dig against Costello's weight.

That same year on December 5, Lou's wife Anne died at age 47. Their second daughter, Carole, died on March 29, 1987 at age 49.

Memorials

On June 26, 1992, the city of Paterson, New Jerseymarker in conjunction with the Lou Costello Memorial Association erected a statue of Lou Costello in the newly named Lou Costello Memorial Park in the city's historic downtown section. The statue has had brief appearances in two episodes of The Sopranos: "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Cold Stones".

In 2005, Madison Street, in the Sandy Hill section of Paterson, where Costello was born, was renamed Lou Costello's Place.

The centennial of Costello's birth was celebrated in Paterson on the first weekend in March, 2006.

Between June 24, 2006 and June 26, 2006, the Fort Lee Film Commission of Lou Costello's native state of New Jersey held a centennial film retrospective at the Fine Arts Theatre in Hollywood. Films screened included the premiere of a digital film made by the teenagers of the present day Lou Costello Jr. Recreation Center in East Los Angeles. Also premiered was the 35mm restored print of the Lou 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.

Filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1926 Bardelys the Magnificent Extra
1927 The Battle of the Century Extra
The Taxi Dance Extra
The Fair Co-Ed Extra
1928 Rose-Marie Extra
Circus Rookies Extra
The Cossacks Extra
The Trail of '98 Stunt Double
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 Livington
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
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
1965 The World of Abbott and Costello - Compilation film


Television



References

External links




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