Already a success on the radio, in 1940 Lou Costello and comedy partner Bud Abbott made their first film, One Night in the Tropics, featuring several of their famous skits, including "Who's on First?" The pair remained popular box office stars throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and they filmed more than 50 episodes of The Abbott and Costello Show, which was shown in syndication for decades.
Actor and comedian Louis Francis Cristillo was born on March 6, 1906, in Paterson, New Jersey. Working with Bud Abbott, Lou Costello was part of one of most popular comedy duos of the 20th century. He had to struggle for a number of years before making it big, however. A mediocre student, Costello dropped out of high school. He worked a series of jobs, including a stint as a boxer, before heading to Hollywood in the late 1920s.
Unfortunately, Costello's dreams of becoming a film star didn't quite pan out. He worked at some of the movie studios as a laborer and later spent some time as a stuntman. Disappointed, Costello turned to comedy and began touring on the vaudeville circuit. He eventually paired up with Bud Abbott.
Collaboration with Bud Abbott
Tall and lean, Abbott played the straight man in the act. The stout Costello was the less astute clown. Abbott and Costello made one of their first radio appearances on The Kate Smith Show in 1938. Soon they built up a following with their humorous verbal volleys back and forth. One of their most famous skits was the baseball bit known as "Who's on First?"
In 1939, Costello finally had a taste of Hollywood success as he and Abbott signed a contract with Universal Pictures that year. Their first film, One Night in the Tropics (1940), featured several of their famous skits, including "Who's on First?" and "Two Tens for a Five." Starring with the Andrews Sisters, Abbott and Costello played accidental army recruits in Buck Privates (1941). By this time, the comedic duo had become hugely successful with audiences who enjoyed their broad humor and slapstick physicality.
Abbott and Costello remained popular box office stars throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In the early '50s, the pair took their act to the emerging medium of television where such comedians as Phil Silvers, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Jack Benny were enjoying some success. They filmed more than 50 episodes of The Abbott and Costello Show, which were shown in syndication for decades.
In 1956, the final Abbott and Costello film, Dance with Me Henry, premiered, and the comedic duo decided to end their partnership the following year. They had made about 36 films together. Over the years, Costello struggled with the limitations of being perceived as the funny fatman in the oversized suits and with the lack of critical recognition for his work. He wanted to take on more dramatic roles and did so in an episode of the western adventure series Wagon Train in 1958.
His final role, however, was the comedic lead in The Thirty-Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959). He died of a heart attack on March 3, 1959, in Los Angeles, California.
Costello had been married to wife Anne since 1934 and together they had four children. He had been predeceased by his only son, Lou Jr., who had drowned in 1943. In his honor, Costello had established the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Foundation. One of his three daughters, Chris, wrote a biography of her father entitled Lou's on First (1982).
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