There he is, all 5-feet-5 of him — distinctly out of character. (This shot comes from our Donald Gordon Collection.)
In character, Lou Costello looked something like this (see below):
He was half of what arguably is the greatest comedy team of all time.
Costello was the antic comedian of the duo, a stocky son of an Italian immigrant from Paterson, New Jersey. Bud Abbott was the accomplished straight man who smoothly kept the duo’s onstage proceedings from flying into chaos.
Both started their professional careers early. Abbott was not Costello’s first straight man in the days of vaudeville (a forgotten chap, Joe Lyons, was.) But once the two teamed up, their professional careers were all but assured.
They worked in a number of network radio formats before Universal signed them on in 1940. Such titles as Mexican Hayride, The Naughty Nineties, Lost in a Harem, Rio Rita, Hold That Ghost and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein made the two the box office smashes.
Abbott and Costello and certainly “saved” Universal Pictures in the 1940s by making a series of low budget/high grossing films which captured all their classic routines. Remember “Who’s on First?”?
Their popularity endured via tv into the early Fifties with appearances on NBC’s The Colgate Comedy Hour and their own syndicated program, The Abbott and Costello Show. The two split up in 1957, and found themselves confronted by various financial problems.
Costello died early, at age 52, in 1959. Abbott lasted until 1974, dying at age 78. Their comedy antics and Costello’s signature opening — “Heyyyyy Abboott” — is continual reminder that the pair was a bona fide movie box office phenomenon of the Forties.
Their popularity endured via tv into the early Fifties with appearances on NBC’s The Colgate Comedy Hour and their own syndicated program, The Abbott and Costello Show. The two split up in 1957.
A while ago, we happened upon a DVD release of four of their films. (It’s part of a set with four films on each disc.) This disc contained 1945’s Here Come The Co-eds, and we recalled that our old friend, Patricia Williamson, had a bit in that movie. So, naturally, we just had to rent it.
We, like most people our age think of Abbott and Costello from the films we saw in the 50s, or their TV program of the same era. But these earlier films are quite different. First of all the production values are better, the scripts are better and although they rely on the duo’s classic routines, they also have better supporting casts.
Most importantly Lou Costello is YOUNGER in these films and therefore his little boy antics play better. Just like Jerry Lewis — who inherited Costello’s mantle when Dean Martin and Lewis replaced Abbott and Costello as the top comedy team — Costello needed youth to carry off his character.
So if you’re not a fan of Abbott and Costello now, we urge you to see these early films to learn what all the fuss was about. Enjoy this great comedy duo at their very best, via their earlier movies. And be prepared to laugh a lot.